Spirits flow again at the Governor’s Mansion

By Maria Saporta
April 15, 2011

One can toast again at the Governor’s Mansion.

Economic developers were pleased that Gov. Nathan Deal has decided that alcohol can be served at the Governor’s Mansion — reversing a ban that had been put in place by former Gov. Sonny Perdue.

“As Gov. Deal said about Sunday alcohol sales — he doesn’t drink; he simply believes in democracy,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson wrote in an e-mail. “The same applies in this scenario.”

That attitude was cheered by people who are charged with attracting new investment to Georgia.

During the recent 2011 Red Carpet Tour, 23 business leaders from around the world were hosted by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce for a four-day visit that included a visit to Augusta for the Masters golf tournament.

The kickoff of the tour was at the Governor’s Mansion for a reception and dinner on Wednesday, April 6.

“We had cocktails and wine with dinner,” said Eric Tanenblatt, senior managing partner for McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, who had served in the Perdue administration. “There was a good sense of camaraderie.”

Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said that Deal actually used the dinner to promote Georgia’s wine industry and its vineyards. Georgia wine was served with dinner.

“Gov. Deal is looking at the big picture,” Williams said. “Wine with dinner is an expectation of visiting business executives, and Gov. Deal recognized that it was part of being a good host on behalf of our state.”

Randy Cardoza, a former commissioner of what is now the Georgia Department of Economic Development, was the 2011 chairman of the Red Carpet Tour.

“It’s not so much about having alcohol as it is about customs,” Cardoza said. “We had eight guests representing international companies. It’s part of most of the world’s culture to have wine with dinner if you want to. It’s unusual not to have it.”

Perdue was not first governor to live in a dry mansion. When Gov. Joe Frank Harris was in office in the 1980s, there was a zero alcohol policy.

That made for some awkward situations. One of the first international delegations to come to the mansion for dinner was from France, where wine is equivalent to iced tea in the South.

As the story goes, the Harris administration approached Atlanta media magnate Anne Cox Chambers, who has a home across West Paces Ferry Road from the Governor’s Mansion, to see if she would host a reception (with alcohol) before the dinner at the mansion.

According to urban legend, her answer was: “Tell the governor that I will not be running a tavern for the state of Georgia.”

George Berry, who served as the state’s economic development commissioner under Harris, said the administration “managed just fine” around the no-alcohol policy at the mansion.

“We came up on a solution, which served us well,” Berry said. “We did breakfast at the mansion with prospects, and nobody expected alcohol with breakfast.”

Berry also said that international executives are used to respecting different cultural practices, and once they were told that Harris didn’t drink, they understood.

It did lead to some career benefits for Berry. When the Japanese would come for a groundbreaking or ribbon-cutting, they always expected to toast the event with their native beverage — sake.

“So I would go instead of the governor,” Berry said. “I used to say: ‘I’m the designated drinker for the Harris administration.’ And it was a role I was happy to fill.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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