Photo Credit: Athens-Clarke County
Mayor Denson is pleased she's facing minimal opposition.
You can learn a lot about a politician by looking at who's supporting her. In Mayor Nancy Denson's case, we got a glimpse when she—like most other candidates for local and state office—filed her first campaign finance disclosure with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission last week, showing a total of $17,716.
A lifelong Democrat, Denson nonetheless received $200 from state Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) and Rep. Regina Quick (R-Athens) whom Denson supported in her 2012 primary race against Democrat-turned-Republican Doug McKillip and also appointed to the Athens Downtown Development Authority board.
Go further down the list: There's $500 from local fruitcake and hotel magnate Larry Benson, who's given tens of thousands of dollars to conservative and GOP candidates over the years; $250 from Len Sapera, a supporter of U.S. Rep. Paul Broun; $200 from Robert Finch, who worked on Charlie Maddox's mayoral campaign; $250 from Phi Kappa Tau, the fraternity that won approval from the Mayor and Commission last year to renovate a former sports bar near downtown; and $175 from David Matheny, an architect who's one of the movers and shakers in Athens development.
"As proven by the campaign's recent financial disclosure, Nancy has incredible support from the community," her campaign manager, Houston Gaines, said in a news release.
But not the whole community. With the possible exceptions of Atlanta state Rep. Margaret Kaiser (Denson's daughter), Democratic activist Anita Brannen, financial advisor Bob Carson and Buddy Allen, a car dealer who's helped bankroll many a Democratic campaign, progressive names are notably absent from the report. The folks who typically back progressive local candidates are nowhere to be found.
Tim Denson is challenging Nancy Denson from the left, but he raised a paltry $504. Look, I like Tim, he's a nice guy and smart, but—real talk—he ain't gonna beat Nancy. So there's an obvious hole here in our slate of candidates, ready to be filled by a legit progressive who is well-known and can do what it takes to win. Yet the conventional wisdom in political circles is that Nancy is unbeatable, that all she has to do is stand up and say "Caterpillar" and bulldoze the opposition.
Chad Whitley left what I thought was an insightful comment on our website: "Each time over the past few weeks that I hear someone say they don't think anyone cares about this mayoral race, or they don't think the current stagnation in Athens local government can be overcome, I wonder if they just don't realize that literally everyone we hear from in Athens is saying they care about this."
I'm not necessarily saying we should throw Nancy out of City Hall on her ear. Maybe she's the best person to lead us for the next four years; it's not for me to decide. But Whitley is right. Countless people have told me they don't like the job she's doing, but they don't think anyone can beat her. "Denson is a lock" is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Progressives will never know if they don't try.
Commission Fundraising: District 3 commission candidate Rachel Watkins, on the other hand, raised $2,460 from a who's who of progressives like Bertis and Katherine Downs, June Ball, Clint McCrory and Krysia Haag, to name a few. Neither of her announced opponents, Melissa Link and Herb Gilmore, had filed a disclosure at press time. Nor had Diane Bell, the only candidate so far for the other open seat, District 7; or Dave Hudgins, who's running in District 5, where incumbent Jared Bailey reported raising no money.
Qualifying Fees: Tim Denson and his Occupy Athens comrades raised a fuss at the Jan. 7 commission meeting about qualifying fees for candidates—specifically, the $1,350, or 3 percent of the mayor's annual salary, it costs to run for mayor. "I fear that having what is a pretty high fee, if you are are living in poverty or you are struggling to pay the rent, favors people who are making a good salary or who are established in politics already," Jesse Houle said.
One could make an argument that candidates ought to have to put some skin in the game, because if any ol' person could waltz into the Board of Elections and put his name on the ballot for free, it'd probably be a mess. And in any case, the commission approved the qualifying fees, which are required by state law and, as far as I know, are the same as they've always been and the same as other places in Georgia.
Atlanta Highway: Best Buy is the latest Atlanta Highway retailer to flee for the greener (former) pastures at Epps Bridge Centre in Oconee County, joining Pier 1, Alumni Hall, the Gap and Old Navy, according to Lee Becker, a blogger in the OC. The move was expected, said Commissioner Mike Hamby, who is chairing an Atlanta Highway revitalization committee. "Best Buy is changing their business model across the country and moving to smaller stores," he says.
The closure could be an opportunity to finally connect the big boxes along the corridor—which property owners have for some reason resisted. "One thing that came up consistently is how hard it is to turn in and out of that Best Buy parking lot," Hamby said.
Teacher Raises: Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to release his proposed budget prior to his State of the State address Wednesday, Jan. 15, and local lawmakers expect it to include raises for teachers. Much of the anticipated $300 million–$500 million in additional revenue this year will go toward K-12 education, according to state Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens). "We are coming out of the recession, finally," Cowsert said. Although it's welcome news, that money is just a fraction of the $7 billion lawmakers have slashed from schools in the past seven years.
Brain Train: It wasn't too long ago that political candidates at least paid lip service to the idea of passenger rail connecting Athens and Atlanta. Not anymore. "I have no idea," state Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens) responded when asked when it might be built at an Athens Area Chamber of Commerce forum Wednesday, Jan. 8. Is it time to stick a fork in the Brain Train?