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Franklin, Shirley Clarke 1945–

Shirley Clarke Franklin 1945

Mayor of Atlanta, politician

At a Glance

Brought Olympics to Atlanta

Embarked on Two Year Long Campaign

Faced Major Budget Crisis


On January 7th, 2002, history was made in Atlanta, Georgia as Shirley Franklin was inaugurated the citys 58th mayor. She became not only the citys first female mayor, but also the first African-American woman to take up the top post of a major southern city. Just as Atlanta rose up out of the ashes of the Civil War, Franklin rose up to change the face of politics. I proudly represent all the women who have worked in the fields, toiled in the kitchen, fought for our rights and challenged our society, she said during her inaugural speech, quoted in Jet. However, it is not just her gender nor her skin color that makes her stand out, for an old-fashioned town long accustomed to politics as usual, Franklin is a breath of fresh air. Never before elected to public office, Franklin brought to her winning campaign a business leaders sensibility combined with an unconventional style that resonated from her bleached blond hair to her inauguration party complete with hip-hop acts and comics. One voter summing up her appeal said, I saw that white hair and I knew shed win, he told the Christian Science Monitor. This is a young, energetic city known for its strong, independent women, and she epitomizes all that. I think shes going to be a good example for the South around the world.

Shirley Clarke was born in Philadelphia on May 10, 1945 to Eugene Haywood Clarke and Ruth Lyons White. There she attended an all-girls high school which she told USA Today left her believing that I could really do anything or be anything that I wanted to. However, public service was definitely not what she had in mind. My dream as a child was to be a dancer. I wasnt the class president or the student government president or anything like that. The first time I ever ran for a major office was to be mayor, she continued. Following high school she attended Howard University where she was active in the Civil Rights movement. There she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology in 1968. A year later she earned a Masters in sociology at University of Pennsylvania. A few years later she married David McCoy Franklin on February 5, 1972, and settled in Atlanta. They had three sons, Kai Ayanna, Cabral Holsey, and Kali Jamilla. They raised their sons in the same house on the southwest side of the city where she continued to live until her election. She and Franklin were divorced in 1986.

Franklins first taste of city politics came in 1973 when her then husband worked as a key player in the election

At a Glance

Born May 10, 1945 in Philadelphia, PA to Eugene Haywood Clarke and Ruth Lyons White; married David McCoy Franklin, (divorced 1986); three sons, Kai Ayanna, Cabral Holsey, and Kali Jamilla. Education: BA, Sociology, Howard University, 1968; MA, Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, 1969. Politics: Democrat.

Career: City of Atlanta, commissioner of cultural affairs, 1978-82, chief administrative officer, 1982-90, executive officer for operations, 1990; Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, Inc., senior vice president for external relations, 1991-97; Shirley Clarke Franklin & Associates, founder, 1997-98; Urban Environmental Solutions, LLC, partner, 1998; Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, vice-chair, 1999-00; Mayor of Atlanta, 2002-.

Memberships: Trustee, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, 1977-81; Member, Atlanta Foundation, 1980; Member, Georgia Council for the Arts, Atlanta, 1979-82; Advisory Board, Georgia Womens Political Caucus, Atlanta, 1982-84; Chairman, Expansion Arts Panel, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC, 1980-82; Board of Directors, National Urban Coalition, Washington, DC 1980-83; has also served on the boards of Atlanta Life Insurance Company, Spelman College, East Lake Community Foundation, Charles Drew Charter School, King Baudouin, US Foundation, United Way, Paideia School, the National Black Arts Festival, the Community Foundation, and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau; Member, National Forum of Black Public Administrators.

Awards: Legacy Award, Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta, 1995; Woman of the Year Award, YWCA, 1996; Leadership Award, NAACP Atlanta chapter, 1987; Distinguished Alumni award, National Association for Equal Opportunity Higher Education, 1983.

Address: Office Mayors Office, 55 Trinity Avenue, Atlanta, GA, 30303, (404) 330-6100.

of Maynard Jackson, Atlantasand the Southsfirst black mayor. In 1978 she joined Jacksons team as the commissioner of cultural affairs. When Andrew Young took over the mayoral office a few years later, Franklin was appointed city managerbecoming the first women in the nation to hold such a post in city government. She was responsible for the daily operations of Atlanta with a $1 billion budget and nearly 8,000 employees. During her tenure from 1982 to 1990 she oversaw the development of Atlantas airport, a new city hall and court buildings, and over 14,000 new housing units. According to an article on, during this time she gained the title of Mayor Shirley, since Youngs globe-trotting deal-making made him scarce at city hall. When Mayor Jackson returned for a third term as mayor, Franklin was appointed executive officer for operations, a post she held from 1990 to 1991.

Brought Olympics to Atlanta

In 1991 Franklin became the top ranking woman on the team responsible for bringing the Olympics to Atlantathe Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. She served as the senior vice-president for external relations and was a key player in developing Centennial Olympic Park. She was also the main negotiator with everyone from labor unions to environmentalist groups. In 1997 she parlayed her administrative and management skill into Shirley Clarke Franklin & Associates, a consulting firm for community and public affairs and strategic planning. In 1998 Franklin became a majority partner in Urban Environmental Solutions. She returned to politics later that year when she was appointed to serve as only one of three people on the newly elected governors transition team. In 1999 she joined the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority as vice-chair. She held this post until 2000 when she officially announced her candidacy for mayor of Atlanta and resigned to begin campaigning.

During her years working in governmental and administrative posts, Franklin was very active in civil and cultural organizations, serving on over 30 boards, including the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Georgia Council for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the United Way, Spelman College, and the National Urban Coalition. She was also a member of the Democratic National Committee and served as treasurer of the Democratic Party of Georgia. Her activism and commitment to her community did not go unnoticed and Franklin has been the recipient of many awards including the 1995 Legacy Award from the Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta, the 1996 Woman of the Year Award from the YWCA, the 1987 Leadership award from the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, and the 1983 Distinguished Alumni award from the National Association for Equal Opportunity Higher Education.

Embarked on Two Year Long Campaign

From the start Franklin approached her campaign like the shrewd businessperson she is. described her campaigning style as well-organized, to-the-point and no-nonsense. Her first step was to take a full two years to campaign. All of my [female] predecessors were well-educated, articulate, experienced African Americans who had been elected to other offices before, she explained to USA Today. I looked at why they didnt win the mayoral race and discovered that they all ran for very short periods of time, like four months. They couldnt break down psychological barriers or raise enough funds in that kind of time. People have to see you, shake your hand and get to know you. So I spent two years running my campaign, getting out there and meeting the people. Another commitment she took in running her campaign was that of full financial disclosure. She listed all of her donors on her campaign website and publicly released her last four federal tax returns. Her fundraising was stunning in its success beating the funds raised by her nearest political rival, a seasoned politician, by nearly two to one. When the election was over it was revealed that she had raised and spent over three million dollars in her campaign, the most ever spent by an Atlanta mayoral candidate. Finally, Franklins campaign was one based upon embracing various groups rather than focusing only on blacks or women. I knew I would appeal to the majority of people who are not anxious at all to return to the time when people didnt get along, Franklin told the Christian Science Monitor. I dont think theres a move away from race, but a move toward inclusiveness.

As she campaigned, Franklins indomitable personality came to light. She became known for her openness and availability to her constituents. A popular bit of campaigning were the sleepoverslate-night get-togethers at supporters homes where up to 30 people could hang out and chat with Franklin in a relaxed, casual setting. A mother of three young men, she also embraced their culture with television and radio ads fueled by hip-hop riffs. Her style was refreshing for a city beleaguered by problems from crime to poor city services to an abysmal budget deficit and tired of the city officials who let the problems multiply. In addition professionals respected her solid management background. Though there were dissenters, mainly among well-off business leaders, when election day finally arrived, Franklin pulled in just over fifty percent of the votenot a landslide by any means, but enough to create history.

Franklin further established her style with her inauguration celebration held in January of 2002. A far cry from the tuxedoed and ball gowned invitation-only affairs Atlanta mayoral inaugurations were known for, Franklins fete kicked off with a party complete with local acts gone good including rappers Outkast and comedian Chris Tucker. The event was open to the public which only needed to go to City Hall to pick up tickets. People from every corner of the city supported her, and she really wanted this party to be about them as a way to say thank you instead of an inaugural celebration focused on her, Franklins spokesperson Imara Canady told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

Faced Major Budget Crisis

The party was enjoyed by everyone, including the new mayor, however it ended fast when Franklin was inaugurated on the following Monday and set about tackling the problems facing the city. The day after her swearing in ceremony she announced that the budget was sporting a deficit of $82 millionnearly $30 million more than the previous mayor had revealed. Franklin jumpstarted into action cutting nearly 50 people from her staff and slicing her own salary by $40,000. Using her business acumen she decided to research the problems rather than seek a piece-meal solution and she brought in top audit firms to analyze the citys systems from budget to human resources to technology. For some reason, people were skeptical, Franklin told the The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. They doubted that I could do the review audits. Not only are we doing it, but we raised $2 million from the private sector to do it.

While she wrestled with the budget and the audits, Franklin also initiated two major public relations coupsthe pothole posse and ethics legislation. Atlanta drivers had long been plagued by potholesa problem Franklin knew first hand from her thirty years in the city. Soon after her election she began a program to fill them. The public and the media loved it. It was symbolic, but substantive. Nuts and bolts is what a city is all about, Bob Holmes, director of the Southern Center for Studies in Public Policy told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. It established a standard that things are going to be done the way they should be. If she is concerned about potholes, she is concerned about everything else. Another popular initiative she spearheaded was the creation of Ethics Legislation as part of the standards to guide public officials. Everyone who ran for City Council, school board and mayor spoke the words of I will hold myself to a high standard; you can trust me, I am honest. But translating that into city policy with ethics legislation took work, Franklin told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. I get almost as many calls about ethics legislation as I do about potholes. It was important to set a new tone for ethics.

In the rounds of reviews and interviews that marked her first hundred days in office, the consensus was that Franklin was doing a good job. Even the business leaders who had been wary of her campaign are coming around. She is reaching out to people who didnt support her, and building a coalition with the business community, the CEO of an Atlanta business who had been a top supporter of Franklins opponent told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. I think the city is in good shape now. All of us have a good feeling about the city and how it is being run. Franklin has worked hard to gain that praise. In those first hundred days she maintained a seven-day work week with just two days off at Christmastime. In addition to potholes and ethics she has revitalized her city cabinet, lobbied for state taxes to repair Atlantas sewers, initiated the expansion of the airport, and through high-profile visits to suburban communities and regional planning meetings, made Atlanta appear, for the first time in years, a team player in the metro region, noted The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. She has also kept to a campaign promise of an open-door policy. Every other month she holds Mayors Night In, a low-key forum where citizens can come and chat with the mayor about their concerns. Franklin shrugs off the heavy workload and intense schedule. The goal is to be well-known around the country and around the world as a well-run, effective, efficient government operation that serves all the people, all the time, she told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Considering her track record few doubt she can reach that goal.



The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 4, 2002; April 17, 2002; April 18, 2002.

Christian Science Monitor, January 16, 2002.

Jet, November 26, 2001, p. 4; January 28, 2002, p. 4.


USA Today,

Candace LaBalle

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