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
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:
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
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
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
short (she happily revealed
she was wearing flat shoes for her Emory appearance, though she frequently
two-and-a-half-inch heels her first couple years in office).
hair color was a potential issue among some constituents. She was told she
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.