Shirley Franklin, Atlanta’s First Female Mayor, Visits Emory



Perspectives on the election that propelled her into the Atlanta mayor’s office made up the core of Shirley Franklin’s appearance at Cox Hall, on 21st March 2002. “When a door opens for one of us,” said Franklin, Atlanta’s first woman mayor, “it opens for most or all of us.” This is one of her well-known quotes.

It was the opportunity to prove that a woman could handle the job of the mayor that eventually led Franklin in 1999 to declare her candidacy for the position she won in 2002. The mayor’s appearance was sponsored by the Residence Hall Association, which tied the event to Emory’s campus-wide celebration of Women’s History Month. Given Franklin’s historical significance, the association was appropriate.

Franklin told a crowd of about 150 that, before running, she grappled with a range of issues; from a mayoral race’s impact on her family to the difficulties of entering public life in a post-Watergate world. The other issue she confronted included her own feelings about the possibilities of longtime friends supporting her opponents or challenging her publicly on issues, before deciding it was the right thing to do. “I love Atlanta and didn’t want to see city government continue to suffer,” Franklin said. She further spoke of having to overcome a lack of name recognition (a microscopic 8% of people polled knew who she was when she declared her candidacy) and the unique difficulties of having to run as a woman. “I knew I couldn’t take anything for granted,” she said. Franklin added that many people were shocked that she understood the inner workings of city government despite the fact she ran Atlanta’s day-to-day operations for more than a decade while serving with two different mayors: Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson.

Now that she is a mayor herself, Franklin said that the biggest problem facing Atlanta is its citizens’ lack of trust in the city government. To combat that, she said the city’s leaders, beginning with herself, must be honest, straightforward, candid and accessible. Franklin was all four of those things during her Emory appearance. While she took the podium 15 minutes after the planned 7 p.m. start time, she stayed more than 20 minutes past the planned 8 p.m. conclusion of the event. Following her 20-minute address, which she delivered smoothly without the benefit of notes, Franklin answered more than 40 minutes of questions from the audience, most of whom were students. Franklin gave detailed answers (something she joked about several times) but consistently held the audience’s interest.

When asked about solutions to solve traffic problems in the city, Franklin said she supported a combined public/private initiative that involved a network of trains and express bus service. She then detailed several other problems with Atlanta’s traffic infrastructure, including its lack of sidewalks and proliferation of potholes. “We filled 2,600 potholes in eight weeks,” Franklin said. “The city website said we had 500 potholes,” she said.  In a riff that was greeted with laughter, Franklin said Atlanta residents could call 1-800-POTHOLE to report their “favorite pothole” so it could be filled.

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