If you’ve been following the Banana-Herald and the traffic on some of the other local political blogs, you’ve probably seen the news about Mayor Heidi Davison and the new local poverty task force. The ABH implies that the Mayor’s sudden devotion to ameliorating poverty may just be an election year stunt. Over at AthPo, I’ve been sitting on this story for about a day, thinking things over.
For what it’s worth, I’ve seen plenty of elected officials pulling out election year stunts, but this seems a little different. And, call me naïve, but I’m not ready to call shenanigans on Heidi just yet.
Say what you will about her, Heidi is a dedicated public servant, and her heart’s in the right place. She ran for and won the Mayor’s race in 2002 with a passion for making Athens a better place and a vision for what Athens could be. We don’t agree with a lot of the positions she’s taken, most notably on rental registration, the smoking ban, the downtown Big Brother cameras, and funding local mass transit, but we would also point out that there’s not much else you can do sometimes when your Commission is dominated by the likes of States McCarter, Tom Chasteen, and a handful of other like-minded souls.
Besides, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, politically speaking, to tackle poverty in an election year. Any discussion of poverty in Athens is going to eventually lead to a discussion on racial issues as well, given the fact that the vast majority of impoverished people in Athens are not white. While lots of us would like to see a frank, open, and long overdue discussion about race in Clarke County, none of us are running for anything.
Another factor to consider is timing. It would be pretty difficult to get the timing right on using something like this to help Heidi out in a run for re-election. The poverty task force toothpaste is out of the tube, but if she hypothetically announces a run for re-election too soon, then everybody and their impoverished brother will call shenanigans. Announce too late, and everyone’s forgotten about the task force anyway.
I’d like to suggest that the announcement of the poverty task force is just motivated by realism. Assuming that poverty has been a priority for the Mayor all along (I suspect it has been), is it so far outside the pale to think that it might have taken three years to get something like this set up?
The worst kept political secret in Athens is this:
When it comes to anything outside of downtown, Five Points, or Boulevard, very few local leaders on the Commission or the Chamber give a fat rat’s ass. (Remember the North Athens Fire Station?) That explains the glacial pace at which the local business community and most of the local government deals with issues outside the upper middle class neighborhoods. It might also explain why it’s taken three years of her term for Heidi to get the ball rolling.