Before former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell became a co-host for The Morning Show (along with Jean Ross), he was interviewed by Rob Redding. This interview was conducted on February 5, 2002. The subjects discussed involved several controversial issues surrounding Mr. Campbell’s tenure as Mayor of Atlanta: the city budget, scandals involving those in his administration, Hartsfield Airport, and finally – the interview concludes with two of the most embittered controversies of the city of Atlanta, under Mayor Bill Campbell: the 1996 Summer Olympics, and Freaknik, a botched event which saw its peak and demise while Mayor Campbell was in office. 



I told you that we had the former mayor of the city in the studio; and yes we do!! Bill Campbell is joining us live! Thank you sir, and I appreciate you for coming in the studio and not doing this by phone. I like to have eye contact with the person we so often talk about. 

Bill Campbell: It’s a pleasure for me to be here. I’ve been here many of times; I enjoy WAOK, and your sister station V-103, and the opportunity to talk to the community, that gets its information in an unfiltered way from black radio. That’s important, and it’s always been important that way. 

Now, how do you like our new format at WAOK? [WAOK was formerly all gospel, and recently converted format to Black Talk Radio] I don’t know if you’ve gotten a chance to sample it… 

Bill Campbell: I have; I’ve been on a number of new shows so far. I like the new format, I liked the old format; I’m a fan of both. The most important thing is making certain that people have a way to get information about the community…that really is not censored, not edited, not filtered. For so many black people (and Rob, you’re much younger), for your dad, for people my age and older, black radio was really the mechanism by which we got information about our community. You read Jet Magazine when we wanted to know what was happening nationally; you listened to black radio if you wanted to know what was going on locally. And of course, we’re also blessed having a lot of black media that’s here: The Atlanta Daily World, The Atlanta Voice…you’ve got a lot of different mechanisms for getting the word out, and that helps a lot. 

Right, right. We’ve got a lot of black media. And as a matter of fact, we’re going to talk about you joining the media, on the next side of the break. After we get through with some other business, I want to kind of quickly run through the last few years of office for you, and get some response from you on that. And I want to open up the call lines here at (404) 741-WAOK, that’s (404) 741-9265. Before we do that, and let people kind of give you their questions while you’re in studio with us; I understand that you have to run, not very long from now. So I want to get as many phone calls in as I can; from the listeners that are listening. The last few years of your term here…have been uh, and of course you’re out of here. How does it feel to be out of city hall? 

Bill Campbell: Well, it was a great honor being there; and the people put me there. I had an opportunity to serve – and I served eight years. We (the Bill Campbell mayoral/civic administration) did a lot of great things for the city of Atlanta, and I’m proud of my work…but it’s also, as the Bible says, “A time for everything.” And it’s a time to let other people to lead…that’s one of the problems we have in our community. We do not develop leadership as well as we would like to. And we have a capable mayor [current mayor of Bill Campbell: Atlanta Shirley Franklin], I’m sure she will do a great job. I had a wonderful opportunity; I’m now moving on to different things that are just as exciting. Nothing will be as fulfilling; and I’ll never have the honor of having served during the most exciting and prosperous era in our history, but with that said, I’m also pleased now, in this new chapter in my life. 

In the last few years, especially the last two…the FBI has been investigating the city, and you sir, and some members of your administration members, or former administration members now…for contracts that were supposedly rewarded for money under the table…supposedly. The FBI is conducting an investigation. It hasn’t bought any formal charges…your lawyers told the AJC (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), about the FBI charges to “bring it on.” How is that going? 

Bill Campbell: …This is uh, I think, one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of the Justice Department, and the U.S. Attorneys Office and the FBI. One of the most important things for us to remember, particularly here in Atlanta, is that they have a history of doing this. The FBI bugged Dr. King; the Justice Department followed him. The same FBI that was led by J. Edgar Hoover (the FBI Building is named after J. Edgar Hoover), one of the most well-known racists in American history…not only did he bug Dr. King, but he then sent the tapes to his wife, urging Dr. King to kill himself. They infiltrated the Civil Rights Movement. Just because they call it justice doesn’t mean very much. Richard Pryor had a joke, he went down to the court looking for justice, and that’s what he found: just us. And that’s exactly what you’re seeing. 

Do you think you’re being demonized by the FBI? 

Bill Campbell: Well, what I think is that there are people who have a political and racial motivation… 

Well, what would that agenda be? 

Bill Campbell: Well, I think to destroy and tarnish black leadership. 

I want to come back to… 

Bill Campbell: It’s not just happening here; it’s happening all over the country. 

Oh, from Macon to… 

Bill Campbell: By the way, not just me – but Rob, you’re a little younger, but let me just tell you this: The FBI and the U.S. Attorneys Office investigated Andrew Young, and brought about a grand jury investigation alleging that not only did he obstruct justice, but that he used drugs…how insane is that? They also investigated Maynard Jackson… 

I remember that. 

Bill Campbell: So, I’m just one in a long line of mayors across this country who have come under a microscope, and that, what I call, a racial profiling of black elected officials… 

So, you think that is actually a syndrome going around America; racial profiling going on. 

Bill Campbell: Well, have you ever been pulled over because you were black? 

Yes, of course. 

Bill Campbell: What do you think that is? 

It’s racial profiling. So you think there’s a form of political racial profiling? 

Bill Campbell: Do you only think they’re doing it when you’re driving? 

Well you know…that’s a point. I’ve never been in elected office. 

Bill Campbell: But you’ve driven a car, right? So there’s no reason to believe the same racist mentality that infects those who pull you over in your car, just because you’re in a white neighborhood, driving a nice car – that somehow is going to stop just because you’re no longer driving a car… 

But certainly some of these investigations have been merited, as we saw in the case of former Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry that there was certainly wrongdoing that was occurring. 

Bill Campbell: Interestingly enough, I’d be the last person to talk about the specifics of the Marion Barry case, but what came to light was that the Justice Department – the same Justice Department that everyone wants to believe is so noble all the time… 

Oh, I don’t believe they’re noble, but they’re some things that are often accurate and true. 

Bill Campbell: Yeah – and there are some things that are inaccurate and corrupt. And I think just because you join the Justice Department, or because you work for the FBI, or because you work for the IRS, that doesn’t imbue you with any special sense of nobility. So in the case of Marion Barry, just as an example, it’s important to remember that the Justice Department spent over ten million dollars investigating Marion Barry, over a fifteen-year period. And what he was finally convicted for was a misdemeanor drug charge. 

So are you telling me is that you think there was nobody in your administration that has done any wrongdoing, in this search or probe… 

Bill Campbell: I would never say never… 

Do you have a feeling that any members of your former administration have done some wrong? 

Bill Campbell: There clearly are some members that did something wrong... 

Now some of those members are now testifying, or threatening to testify for the FBI against you; and you’ve demonized them – I’ve seen some of the things you’ve said…do you think that kind of… 

Bill Campbell: Here’s…here’s what I’m gonna do Rob; I’m gonna cap this conversation by saying this: 

We did things the right way. I know that in the manner in which I ran government, and in which the manner I conducted myself…we made certain that we followed the ethical and legal and moral dictates, so that the people of Atlanta could be proud of the way we ran our government. I have every reason to believe that we did it the right way. Are there people, who certainly did wrong things in our administration? There’s no doubt about it. Are there people at WAOK who are doing things improperly? Absolutely! What it means, is - when you have a large organization, you set a standard; you make certain that you do things the right way, and if you find people that stray from that path, then they ought to be punished. 

So, you don’t bear any responsibility for anything anyone in your staff has done? Or might have done? 

Bill Campbell: Well, I bear responsibility in so far as, if they were a part of my administration and they did wrong, and I was the person that brought them into government, or the person who in essence was the head of that government, and it happened during my tenure – then that’s certainly a responsibility that I take, because they did things improper on my watch. 

Do you expect formal charges to be filed against you? 

No. 

You don’t think so.

No, never. 

Have you heard the rumblings, that there are expected charges? 

Bill Campbell: Lemme, lemme tell you this Rob…one of the things that I want to be clear about, is that we did things the right way. And I’m very positive that, history will reflect that, not only was this a demonization but also a misguided effort, to try to discredit black leadership; but that we have tremendous accomplishments we’re very proud of, and we’re going to move forward with. 

I wanted to ask you about one of the issues you went out on was the Coefield Fort nomination for the city judgeship. Of course, she is the wife of State Senator Vincent Fort. What happened with that nomination? Seems like the Atlanta Judicial Board, or whatever they’re called – supposedly said, that the person had to be submitted on a list…she was submitted by you. And they said that they didn’t pick that person? 

Bill Campbell: The process of selecting a judge and, or judges for the municipal or traffic courts is that people apply based on vacancies; then lists are submitted to the mayor, and culled on down to the Commission. Mrs. Fort was not on the list, but I submitted her name for nomination. A legal challenge ensued; and in essence the court upheld my ability or right to appoint her; but said if I was going to appoint her outside this list, that the city council had to approve that nomination. Because I was appointing her, in essence, at the end of my term… 

So time just ran out? 

Bill Campbell: Time ran out; but the court’s ruling was a clear victory for the mayor – being able to appoint a qualified nominee that was not on the list. Mrs. Fort was qualified, but because I did not have time to convene the city council, I had to appoint someone else. I have no doubt that she will continue to be considered when judgeships become available; and hopefully she will become a judge, at some point. 

This commission that said you couldn’t appoint (at your own pleasure) a person, and said that you had to pick from some list. Why didn’t they want Mrs. Fort, in your opinion, in that position? 

Bill Campbell: It’s impossible for me to say why; they filed a lawsuit…it’s just hard to really discern. What I will tell you is Governor Roy Barnes appointed a Superior Court judge that was not on a list submitted by the judicial commission… 

You’re talking about Arrington? 

Bill Campbell: No…we’re talking another judge who was appointed earlier in his term. That did not get anybody filing a lawsuit; that didn’t get anybody criticizing the Governor…they just accepted that, and moved on. 

Then, this is the whole demonizing thing again, with the media… 

Bill Campbell: Well, if you’re a black elected official, then certainly – you’re going to have problems with the morning paper… 

Right! And we’re going to talk about that; from Atlanta to Macon to Savannah, and all points in between and even other cities in general, we’ve seen the problem of demonizing black mayors and black elected officials. One other question I wanted to get to quickly: the airport – supposedly, some of these funds that were supposedly inappropriately spent out of the airport fund – in your administration; had been audited at some $900,000. What happened with that, was it just an oversight? 

Bill Campbell: This is again; one of these fascinating issues…we did the audit ourselves, because we do an auditing of these funds every year, to be certain that we are allocating moneys appropriately. This particular appropriation should not have come out of airport funds. But again, it’s only a matter of reimbursing the airport through another fund, and not as though, as the newspaper would have you believe – people were lining their pockets, full of airport money. 

It seemed like the next big scandal. 

Bill Campbell: Well, this is in essence, an auditing dispute. The airport receives a number of services from the city of Atlanta: police, fire, a host other services. When you do your budget, you allocate a certain percentage of airport funds to pay for the services they receive. This was in essence, someone in the finance department, deeming that these expenditures should have come from airport funds. An auditor, our auditor, not some independent voice, made the determination that these funds should not have been allocated as airport funds, and so they would repay! It happens all the time – it’s not anything that would warrant the sort of grotesque media attention it received; and I think you understand that it’s nothing more than the same effort we’ve seen in the past. Here’s what you ought to know about the operation of the airport – under the Campbell Administration’s tenure: we took the airport; we redid the concessions; we repaved the runway; we made it into the busiest airport in the world; we increased the bond ratings; meaning that an independent voice, The Wall Street Ratings Agency, for the first time, in the history of this airport – increased our bond ratings! Meaning that they felt our operation of the airport was so good that they improved our credit ratings for our bonds. The first time that happened!! So that tells you, that independent voices, looking at our airport, understand that we did things very well! We operated it very smoothly, and if fact, that’s part of the whole issue: failing to appreciate when good work is done, and finding some way to demonize when in essence there are some arguable audit questions that happen every day! 

Um, Shirley Franklin’s new budget…it’s taken care of at least $20,000,000 of the debt that was leftover from the last fiscal year. What happened with last year’s budget, and why is the city in such a fiscal fix? 

Bill Campbell: …Let me talk about what we did. For eight years, we submitted a balanced budget, which is required by a city’s charter; we lowered the property tax…fairly substantially. In essence, I think, improve service delivery. We lowered the crime rate, to the lowest on record – in 2000 we had the lowest homicide rate in 34 years. And I think we did a very good job of managing the city’s finances. And we kept the credit rating from the New York credit agencies at the same high credit rating that it always had! Meaning that independent voices that looked at our operations and the city’s finances thought we had done things the right way. There are clear challenges that this new Mayor must face – in large part because you have declining revenues… 

Is that from property taxes, are we having a hard time collecting… 

Bill Campbell: No. What you’re having is, a lot of the revenue stream for the city of Atlanta, comes from hotel, motel tax revenues and sales tax; and the sales tax revenues are down, based on the current recession that is affecting the entire country… 

Right… 

Bill Campbell: This is what’s so interesting, Rob: on the one side of the newspaper they will say, “Budget deficit for city – Campbell mismanaged budget”; on the other side they’ll say, “Deficit for state of Georgia, Governor finds ways to patch holes”! Well, the truth of the matter is, 39 states are experiencing budget deficits right now, because of the recession that’s affected the entire country. Coupled with the increased security costs, from the 9/11 attacks, and the anthrax attacks, which means you have to spend more money for security. So you’re spending more money on security, and you’re taking in less revenue from sales tax, and you’re going to be a shortfall; and that’s what we’ve got. 

Let me ask you quickly: I saw the figure, $45 million+; you were saying that there would be a shortfall by that much. It’s turn out to be double that much. Is it really that big, or is it just trying to pad the budget with what Shirley Franklin wants? 

Bill Campbell: I’ve not had the opportunity to look at the new budget, and I don’t know the figures they’re using for an analysis…I know they’re going to be tough financial challenges, not only for the city of Atlanta, but also for the state of Georgia! And for most cities across the country. 

But how does $45 million double into $90 million in deficits, I don’t understand that. Could you try to explain that? Very few people could? Was it mismanagement in figuring on the behalf of your administration? 

Bill Campbell: It’s impossible…we submitted a budget that was balanced. It was going to be difficult for any administration, based on the challenges of the recessionary economy, and the post-Sept. 11th nation that requires more expenditures for security. It’s like your own household Rob, if all of a sudden are taking in a lot less money, and having to spend a lot more, then somewhere you’re going to have a problem making things balance. And that’s what you’re experiencing today (with Atlanta). But I have great confidence, that the Shirley Franklin Administration will move the city forward, in a thoughtful way. 

And you don’t think that shortfall – maybe that was a budgeting error…? 

Bill Campbell: I have not had a chance to look at the budget documents or the analysis; I’ve been very busy working on a post-government career; so it’s impossible for me to talk about – with any intelligence, what exactly occurred…except to say that, 39 states are having budget shortfalls, and several cities are facing fiscal challenges, as is the city of Atlanta. I know it’s going to be very difficult. 

Freaknik and the Olympic vendors…some things went wrong with Freaknik – and you had to scale it back…what went wrong? And do you think it was handled correctly? And the Olympic vendors – claimed they were shut out of the 1996 Summer Olympic games. Do you think your administration did a good job managing those two events? 

Bill Campbell: I think we did a very good job of managing the Olympics. And by all accounts, the Olympics vendors who were not successful – it had very little to do with the City’s operation of it…in fact, we leased out vending sites to an independent vendor, who subleased those sites; what happened was, in a large part, there was a feeling that the people who came (to Atlanta) were going to be spread throughout the entire city. For the most part, the Olympic visitors stayed in a fairly compacted area. Mostly around the Centennial Olympic Park area. And many of the vendors – who I think, justifiably thought, there would be great traffic, and great money spent all over these sites; that they would be successful. Some were successful, and some weren’t. But you can imagine, that’s how business works. And it’s regrettable that all of the vendors didn’t do well – some did well and some didn’t do as well. 

What about Freaknik? 

Bill Campbell: Well, Freaknik was a very difficult issue; I don’t know if there was an easy answer for Freaknik…if you’ve got one, Rob – I’d be more than happy to hear your thoughts on it. So, let me ask you: you’re the Mayor, of the city of Atlanta… 

What do I do? 

Bill Campbell: You have 200,000 come; and there is nothing where they’re able to have particular venues…the streets are clogged up…there’s grotesque behavior by a small percentage; just absolutely unacceptable, unlawful, grotesque behavior by a certain number…what do you do? How do you manage it effectively, when most of these are young people? So, you know, parents all over the country are, in essence, entrusting their children to (you)… 

But they’re bringing revenue to the city, though… 

Bill Campbell: Whether they bring revenue or not, if a thug comes and sexually assaults a woman in Atlanta – I don’t care how much money he spends! 

That’s bad; but you can’t hold a whole group responsible for…what one person does! You do agree with that, don’t you? 

Bill Campbell: Whoa! Hold it! Hold on a second there, Rob! You’re question was, “They spent money didn’t they?” And what I’m telling you is, I don’t care how much money is spent, you’ve gotta act appropriately! So what I’m telling you is, if 200,000 people come, and just 10% (which is a fairly small number) of them act inappropriately, then it really infects the entire event, because you’ve got to spend a lot of money protecting the entire public! You can’t have women that walk around enjoying the city; and then this ten percent acting inappropriately – you’ve got to make certain that you’re taking the necessary steps to protect them all! And so what we did was, we said, “Everybody’s welcomed, but everybody has to obey the law!” And in order for traffic to move, and in order for us to provide safety for all of those who are here, in order for us to make certain we are responsive to those that are visiting and those that live here, we want to make certain that we have an adequate security presence! And it was a very difficult challenge! 

So shut down the city!! Can you stay for a little longer? 

Bill Campbell: Nope, no…I’m not going to be able to stay; my agreement was that I’d come and stay for 30 minutes, which I have done. And so, the answer to your question is, Freaknik was a very difficult issue! We worked hard to make certain that we tried to respond to all the different parts of the city. And look, I come from a heritage of black colleges; I was born on a black college campus…and a lot of the people that came, were not black college students! The first person arrested, in the second Freaknik, was a 53 year-old autoworker from Detroit!