By David Pendered
Atlanta City Councilmember H. Lamar Willis said Friday that former Mayor Shirley Franklin, former council President Cathy Woolard and candidate Andre Dickens are hypocrites for saying that Willis is ethically unfit for public office.
Willis made his remarks on the steps of Atlanta City Hall. Willis, who is seeking his fourth term, said he is a human being who has sought to atone for missteps in his personal life, wants the campaign to focus on governance issues, and is pushing back against the two former elected officials.
Willis raised these ethical issues about his accusers: Franklin provided haven in her home to her daughter and her then-son-in-law, who’s now serving a life sentence for his role in smuggling more than a ton of cocaine in a transcontinental operation; Woolard stopped working for Atlanta half way through her term in order to focus on her (unsuccessful) campaign for Congress; Dickens was a resident of Rex, not Atlanta, when he filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and evidently moved there in order to avoid tapping his wife’s assets to pay his creditors.
More than a dozen supporters flanked Willis as he presented his public rebuttal to criticism filed Tuesday by Franklin and Woolard. The two former elected officials made their case at an endorsement event for Dickens, who took the podium to say he thinks Atlanta should have an ethical government.
Willis made his response in a methodical fashion in front of a half-dozen reporters. Willis released his written remarks Friday afternoon. Here are some highlights of his presentation during a follow-up conversation with reporters:
Willis regarding Franklin:
- “Mayor Franklin had many, many challenges during her tenure as mayor. Frankly, she dealt with them publicly while trying to be a mother and the mayor. To the extent there were missteps, arguably on numerous occasions, in my opinion, I felt it difficult to understand how she could so savagely attack me.
- “Mayor Franklin’s daughter was married to a drug trafficking murderer. When that individual was given bond, he resided in the mayor’s home under protection that is provided at taxpayer expense. That is the place from which he escaped when he was on the lamb for a significant period of time.
- “No one called for her resignation. No one called for a change in the police department. No one called for a change in how she administered this government. I take issue with what is a personal matter to be construed as one that impacts my ability to serve.
- “If my actions have caused me to be unfit, she should have submitted her resignation long before she left office. To the extent that it was not necessary for her, my ability to serve is more than reasonable and I’m more than competent to serve, given my track record and my performance.”
Franklin responded with this comment late Friday:
- “Once again Mr. Willis’ behavior is disappointing. His vicious verbal attack on me and my family indicate he is not fit for public office. Based on his comments today, he is a desperate man willing to say and do anything to win an election. If this is an effort to silence my voice, I am reminded of when once upon a time women were to be seen and not heard.
- “The idea that I attacked him personally is absurd. I have stated the facts about his disbarment for stealing a client’s money and his repeated unethical behavior. This isn’t my opinion it is fact. As a longtime Atlantan, a woman of integrity and a former mayor I have chosen to support and endorse, Andre Dickens, a candidate who values a strong ethical commitment to good government. I will not apologize for that endorsement, no matter how baseless and dishonest Mr. Willis’ attacks. My public service and ethics reform are a matter of public record.”
Willis regarding Woolard:
- “She doesn’t know me because she quit on the job long before she had a chance to know me. She quit two years into her job as president of the city council. She decided to give up on the city she loves. I’m not willing to do that.”
Willis regarding Dickens:
- “He was a resident of Rex, Ga. when he filed bankruptcy. He established in those documents he was separated and living in Rex, Ga., and that bankruptcy was filed in 2011.
- “There are only two things we can ask: One, he needs to show he has become a resident of the City of Atlanta, appropriately; Two, the question that I think the federal bank court should have is whether he decided to utilize that residency option such as to avoid having to pay, or use his wife’s assets as part of repayment for, a multimillion dollar debt.”
The Georgia Supreme Court ordered Oct. 7 that Willis be disbarred from the practice of law for ethical breeches. Mayor Kasim Reed has remained a steadfast ally.
Franklin’s daughter pleaded guilty in federal court in South Carolina, in 2007, to helping her ex-husband launder drug money by converting it to postal money orders.
Creative Loafing provided extensive coverage of the drug sting that netted Franklin’s daughter and former son-in-law, Tremayne Graham. Graham was implicated, but not charged, in a double homicide in Atlanta allegedly related to the drug ring. Former CL editor Mara Shalhoup wrote about the ring in a 2010 book, BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Family Mafia.