By Maria Saporta and Dave Williams
Friday, March 19, 2010
Republican gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel is making inroads in Atlanta’s business community.
Longtime Atlanta business leader Dick Anderson has agreed to join the former Georgia secretary of state’s campaign as vice chairman, beginning April 1. Anderson was previously an executive with BellSouth Corp. and 2007 chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
More recently, Anderson has been serving as executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, a post he will give up to join Handel’s campaign. But Anderson said Gov. Sonny Perdue will reappoint him to the GRTA board as vice chairman so that he can remain involved in the state’s transportation issues.
Handel is also gaining the backing of influential business leaders and several have signed on as host committee members for upcoming fundraisers.
Among those supporting Handel are Neal Purcell, who has retired from KPMG LLP; John Huntz of Arcapita; Jim Stephenson of Yancey Bros. Co.; Tim Lowe of Lowe Engineers LLC; Dick Stormont of The Stormont Companies LLC; Alec Fraser of Turner Properties Inc.; Mark Hennessy of Hennessy Jaguar; Michael Robison of Lanier Parking; Kirk Hancock of The North Highland Co.; developer Bob Voyles and Tom Aderhold of Aderhold Properties Inc.
A half-dozen current Metro Atlanta Chamber board members also have signed on with Handel: Paul Garcia of Global Payments Inc.; Ken Cornelius of Siemens; Jack Markwalter Sr. of Invesco Ltd.; David Allman of Regent Partners LLC; and Mit Shah Sr. of Noble Investment Group.
Fred Cooper of Cooper Capital LLC is serving as Handel’s campaign chairman; and Eric Tanenblatt of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP is serving as an adviser to her team.
“After a lot of standing on the sidelines, it looks like the dam is breaking and Karen Handel is becoming the Republican candidate the Atlanta business community is rallying around,” Tanenblatt said.
He added that Anderson’s decision to join the campaign “sends a very powerful signal to the business community.”
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at The University of Georgia, said Handel has long been familiar to the metro region’s business leaders. Before winning statewide office, she served as president of the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.
“She is a known quantity to many of them,” Bullock said. “They like her and trust her.”
But other Republican candidates are also attracting prominent business supporters.
Tom Bell, chairman of SecurAmerica LLC and former CEO of Cousins Properties Inc., is hosting a March 31 fundraiser at his home for former state Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah. Johnson’s other supporters include Waffle House Inc. CEO Joe W. Rogers Jr.; Rock-Tenn Co. CEO Jim Rubright; Phil Jacobs of the Pendleton Consulting Group; and Suzanne Sitherwood, president of AGL Resources Inc. and chair of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine’s gubernatorial bid has lined up support from Dan Amos, chairman and CEO of Aflac Inc.; George McKerrow, president and CEO of Ted’s Montana Grill; Bartow Morgan, CEO of The Brand Banking Co.; and David Davoudpour, founder and CEO of Royal Capital Corp.
And in U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal’s camp are former Georgia Commissioner of Economic Development Craig Lesser, now with Pendleton Consulting Group; Millard Choate, founder of Choate Construction Co.; Philip Wilheit of Wilheit Packaging LLC, a former chairman of the Georgia Chamber, and business executive Guy Millner, a former candidate for governor.
But Anderson and Tanenblatt said Handel is emerging as the leading alternative to the front-running Oxendine, and they fully expect their candidate will make the Republican runoff. “I’ve become convinced that she’s absolutely the best choice for governor,” Anderson said. “She’s ethical. Some people have questions about some of the others in the race. She has the business skills to run state government. She’s decisive and can lead.”
Anderson said he will focus on two areas of Handel’s campaign — working on policy issues like transportation and economic development; and helping “coalesce the Atlanta business community around Karen Handel.”
Anderson said Handel already is well acquainted with the issues facing metro Atlanta because she served as chair of the Fulton County Commission as well as with the North Fulton Chamber.
She stepped down from the secretary of state post at the end of last year to focus on her gubernatorial campaign.
Anderson said another strength is that Handel has no learning curve on metro Atlanta’s issues and that she fully understands “the region’s importance to the state.”