Political Jockeying Led Up to Accord On Georgia Dome

The Atlanta Constitution, June 7, 1989.
Jim Newton
When City Council members unanimously voted for the Georgia Dome on Monday, Council President Marvin S. Arrington beamed.

"A piece of cake, a piece of cake," Mr. Arrington told Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) officials as they emerged from the council chamber after the long-awaited vote.

In fact, according to interviews with more than a dozen participants in dome negotiations, it was anything but simple. Sources say that in the final weeks before its approval, the dome project was held hostage by conflicting political agendas and wrenched loosed in a ruthless race by council members to outdo one another and grab credit for the project's inevitable success.

On one side were council members Jabari Simama and Bill Campbell, who maneuvered to dislodge stalled negotiations but in the process alienated many of their colleagues. On the other was Mr. Arrington, who some officials say manipulated the talks to steal the limelight. Complicating the matter, Fulton County Commission Chairman Michael L Lomax, who is running for mayor, increased pressure on the council by publicly urging an early commission vote on the dome.

"There were conversations going on all over town," one council member said.

Despite the last-minute fracas, the City Council delivered an 18-0 vote of approval for the dome. But it came at the cost of a series of compromises that left some council members feeling they gained little for their efforts.

The final agreement stepped back from previous council demands that the state pledge to buy two Vine City churches if no private buyers emerged. City and county representation on the GWCC board, which the city had previously demanded, was also dropped, and vague language on revenue sharing for the dome was accepted by the council.

"Yesterday, I just became numb," Councilman Hosea Williams said. "I thought the way that things came down made the City Council look mighty weak."

For months leading up to the vote, the main points of disagreement were between the council and the state, especially concerning the dome's impact on surrounding neighborhoods and churches.

But last week, after critics complained the project had run aground because of a lack of leadership, council members turned on each other.

That followed one of the dome debate's strangest turns, two weeks ago, when Mr. Arrington, already under fire from some quarters for railing to lead his colleagues on the issue, offered an alternative to the dome plan--build two open-air stadiums.

That proposal was roundly attacked, but Mr. Arrington now says it was a calculated plan to forge progress on the dome talks. "I'm a poker player," he said. "I floated the two-dome concept first of all because I thought it was a good idea but also becauseI thought it would be a way to get people off the dime."

Several dome supporters said they viewed Mr. Arrington's move as an indication that he could not be relied upon, and they sought to bypass him in pushing for a vote.

"When Marvin introduced the two-stadium proposal, which is a 4 year-old idea with no support people in the business community and some others began checking around for a way to make this deal happen without him," one council member said.

According to several sources Mr. Campbell and Mr. Simama rounded up support and went so far as to schedule a news conference to announce they had a majority in favor of the dome.

But sources said Mr. Arrington got wind of the plan and, fearing that approval of the dome without his help would diminish his influence, acted quickly to head it off

Mayor Andrew Young and Gov. Joe Frank Harris had just returned from out-of-town trips, and Mr. Arrington suggested they meet with him and Councilwoman Myrtle R. Davis, who chaired the intergovernmental negotiating group. That meeting, which ended with all parties reporting progress on the dome talks, is credited with moving the dome project forward. It also effectively stole the renegade councilmen's thunder.

"Marvin spanked them this time," Mr. Williams said. "He gave Jabari and Campbell a real political spanking."

Mr. Campbell would not comment on the specifics of the talks but said he took an active role because "there was a great deal of despair."

Many council members attribute that despair to grandstanding by the council president, but Mr. Arrington angrily dismisses the criticism that he attempted an end run around his colleagues. "That is absolutely nonsense," he said. ''I do not need prior c onsent from anybody to get involved in a city project. I'm the president of the City Council, and I serve the whole city."

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