Emory Report
September 19, 2005
Volume 58, Number 4


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September 19, 2005
Atlanta mayor Franklin speaks in White Hall

by eric rangus

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin spoke for about 30 minutes in White Hall, Wednesday, Sept. 14, as part of the Department of Women’s Studies’ Fall 2005 Colloquium Series, “Women, Power and Social Change.”

But it was the nearly 50 minutes of questions and answers that followed, spurred by the audience, that left the strongest impression and gave Franklin, an engaging speaker and the rare politician who doesn’t pander to her audience (on this day, anyway), room to breathe.

Responding to a question about whether as mayor she took up any women’s-related issues simply because she is a woman herself, Franklin replied with a flat “no.”

“We can tackle any issue, any time, just like anybody else,” said Franklin. The “we” in this case are women; the “anybody else” is men. She listed her efforts to improve Atlanta’s infrastructure—better sewers, fewer potholes—as an example of the “good government” policies that have characterized her first term. Franklin added that she only recently has publicized educational programs—something she referred to as a “soft” (read: female) issue.

Franklin’s appearance was the first of seven events in the women’s studies colloquium series. The series’ goal is to explore the gender, racial and class dynamics of power, leadership and activism as they relate to women’s lives.

The colloquium doubles as a graduate course in women’s studies taught by Beth Reingold, associate professor of political science, who introduced Franklin. Future colloquium speakers include CDC Director Julie Gerberding, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Claire Sterk and Woodruff Professor of Law Martha Fineman. All events are free and open to the public.

Franklin, who also is a Rosalynn Carter Fellow in Public Policy at Emory, discussed each aspect of the colloquium title. She said women need female leaders to emulate, and their need starts in their adolescent years. “The early introduction of women seeing women in positions of power and influence really does matter,” she said. “It can influence their lives for a long time to come.”

It gives them confidence, she said. Franklin admitted even she lacked some of that confidence—despite working for two previous Atlanta mayors—and finding it helped her decide to run for mayor herself.

“How can you tell young women that they can do anything, be anything, when you don’t have the nerve to do it yourself,” she said. “I ran because I wanted women to have an open door. I wanted to show that women could run—run successfully, as it turned out—and govern. There can be self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence in women. External sources tell us we can’t do something, and we believe it.”

Franklin’s appearance was being filmed. When the camera was turned off, she opened up even more. Though there were nearly 100 people in the room, the feeling was that the mayor was talking to each attendee one on one.

Franklin discussed some of the compromises to her appearance she made while a mayoral candidate. Consultants told her she was too short (she happily revealed she was wearing flat shoes for her Emory appearance, though she frequently wore two-and-a-half-inch heels her first couple years in office).

Even Franklin’s hair color was a potential issue among some constituents. She was told she couldn’t win an election as an African American woman with blond hair. Franklin said she was told she was denying her race.

“I told them my hair was going to be blond or red, because I wasn’t going to be gray,” she said, adding she’s had salt-and-pepper hair from her 20s.

Proper accessories frequently were a must for softening her image as well. She noted that she wasn’t wearing pearls. Franklin said that while she was running for mayor and in the time after her election, she wore them to appear more feminine. After a while though, substance triumphs over style.

“I figured, after we raised $3 billion for sewers, I earned my way,” she said. And the pearls came off.