Shirley Franklin on being mayor

January 18, 2008

Elaine Welles, Philadelphia Tribune


Witty and smart, Franklin gave detailed facts and figures with ease, as she talked about the processes of governing and the fiscal, infrastructural and social changes made in Atlanta since her term began in 2002.

Franklin’s leadership has been widely recognized and she has received a number of distinctions for her service.
Mayor Michael Nutter introduced Franklin to Tuesday evening’s audience at the Loews Hotel, welcoming the native sister’s return home.

Jokingly, he said to Franklin, “I’m really glad you’re the mayor of Atlanta and not out in the field in 2011.”

“We look to Philadelphia for ideas about how to be a better city,” said Franklin in opening remarks.

Philadelphia has provided guidance in areas such as the integrated commuter system, addressing issues of homelessness and re-entry initiatives for ex-offenders, she said.

But under her leadership, according to a number of observers, Franklin has used her own management and coalition-building skills to improve Atlanta; traversing many issues, but always staying focused on the three or four that need the most attention.

“I didn’t deal with everything,” she said of her initial years in office. “I am single-minded. I did those things that were required by law for me to do.”

The priorities were ethics reform, balancing the budget (the city had an $82 million deficit) and fixing the water and sewer system. Gaining public support required that she address those issues first, according to Franklin.

Today the mayor is considered one of the top municipal leaders in the country. 

A native of Philadelphia, she was elected to her current post in 2001, for which she was encouraged to run by former Mayor Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young, former United Nations ambassador.

“I came into office kicking and screaming,” she said. “I was not your typical candidate.” But now having served since 2002, she says she has never regretted being elected and has “learned and grown so much.”

She has addressed that pesky water and sewer problem, bringing to code a system near collapse; currently helping 1,200 high school students find money for college or to find a job; and establishing a public/private partnership that assisted homebuyers with down payments and closing costs.

And while she declared she would welcome returning to private life when her term expires in a little less than two years, it would surprise no one if she were to enter another high-profile position.

Franklin was the first woman to be elected mayor of Atlanta and the first African-American woman to become mayor of a major southern city. She became the 58th mayor of Atlanta on Jan. 7, 2002.

Prior to her election, she worked in the administration of former Mayor Jackson in capacities that included executive officer for operations, chief administrative officer and city manager.

Franklin is the daughter of Eugene Haywood Clarke and Ruth Lyons White. After graduating from Girls High School, she attended Howard University, earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She earned a master’s in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.

The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania presented the America’s Great Mayors series. The next series will focus on Great Public-Private partnerships.