Shirley franklin isn't standard mayor material. For starters, she's a woman, which makes her the first female mayor Atlanta has ever had; in fact, she's the first black woman ever to run a big Southern city.
All of 5 ft. 1 in. tall, Franklin is a divorced mother of three who dyes her hair platinum blond. Before she campaigned for mayor, Franklin had never run for an elected office. Outkast played at her inauguration.
When Franklin took office in 2002, Atlanta needed somebody a little out of the ordinary. Her predecessor, Bill Campbell, had completely blown the public's trust in city government. Two of his top aides pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, and Campbell is awaiting trial on a seven-count indictment for, among other things, bribery, tax fraud and corruption. Franklin inherited an $82 million budget deficit, which was about 20% of the entire city budget and $37 million more than she had been led to expect. Atlanta's homeless population was exploding, the city's infrastructure was fraying, the streets had not been maintained in eight years, and the sewers were leaking so badly that state and federal environmental agencies were fining Atlanta $20,000 a day.
How did Franklin respond? She started by committing what might have been political suicide. She cut 1,000 jobs from the city payroll and got the city council to approve a 1% sales-tax hike and a 50% bump to property taxes. To prove she could take it as well as dish it out, she laid off half her staff and cut her own salary by $40,000.
To restore faith in the local government, Franklin shepherded through the city council a new ethics code for municipal employees. She corralled 75 private firms to conduct studies of Atlanta's budgetary, infrastructure and homeless problems and perform a massive audit of the city governmentpro bono. She organized a task force she called the Pothole Posse to go after the city's crumbling streets. She kept a running tally of cracks that were filled, combining good stewardship with quality political theater.
Franklin, who was Atlanta's city manager from 1982 to '90 and served several key roles on its 1996 Olympics committee, is not just a rampaging reformer but also a skillful and diplomatic negotiator.
Working with county and state officials, she managed to pull together a complex set of loans and agreements that will bring about $3 billion in upgrades and repairs to Atlanta's leaky sewers.
Since 2002, Franklin has turned in three balanced budgets, and in February she reported an $18 million revenue surplus. A $5 million homeless shelter is scheduled to open this summer. She plans to run for a second term this November, and so far nobody is even bothering to oppose her. For her achievements Franklin was awarded the John F.
Kennedy Profile in Courage Award this year by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. She is the first sitting mayor to be so honored.