Lee was the highest-profile Cobb advocate for that transportation sales tax referendum, the Cobb centerpiece of which originally was to be a $1 billion light rail line from the Cumberland area to a Midtown Atlanta MARTA station. It was overwhelmingly unpopular with the public as soon as it was unveiled and things went downhill from there both for him and for the TSPLOST. Opponents emerged from every corner and grew stronger as the summer of 2012 wore on.
The measure ultimately got hammered by a 2-to-1 margin at the ballot box. Lee’s support for the controversial tax hike also nearly cost him his chairmanship. He narrowly held off challenger Bill Byrne, a TSPLOST foe, in a runoff election.
FAST-FORWARD to this month: Lee was just as thunderstruck privately as the rest of us later were when the Braves quietly approached him about relocating to Cobb County. As he told Marietta Kiwanians in brief remarks during Thursday’s meeting, “I thought they were just blowing smoke in my ear for the first six weeks.”
Once he realized they were serious, he obviously decided to apply what he had learned from the regional TSPLOST debacle.
● Lesson 1: Do It Yourself. Lee decided the crucial vote on whether the Braves come here would be left to the Commission, not to some other board — or to the public. No referendum, in other words. He apparently did not even tell the other four commissioners about the possible move until early November, after he, County Manager David Hankerson, Cobb DOT head Faye DiMassimo, County Attorney Deborah Dance and a few Cobb Chamber and Cumberland Community Improvement District insiders had worked out a way to finance Cobb’s contribution to the effort and address traffic questions.
Then, with the finance plan already in hand showing a minimal impact on most Cobb property owners, he apparently was able to quickly line up the support of at least two commissioners, Helen Goreham and JoAnn Birrell. And those two votes, plus his own, are enough to give him a majority when the board votes Tuesday on whether to approve the Memorandum of Understanding with the Braves.
● Lesson 2: Move Fast. The Braves deal was announced Nov. 11. Tuesday’s decisive vote comes just 15 days later. That’s a timetable that leaves little time for opponents to coalesce, though they’re trying hard. In contrast, last year’s TSPLOST spending list for Cobb was made public a year before the referendum, giving plenty of time for critics to find their footing and poke holes in the proposal. Even a $6.5 million ad campaign mounted by TSPLOST forces was not enough to overcome the anti-tax clamor.
NOW, WITH THE BRAVES MOU VOTE just three days away, Lee’s strategy seems to be working. He appears to have the two votes he must have and stands a reasonable chance of getting the other two.
As for Lesson 1, as noted above, Goreham and Birrell are both on board with the Braves. Southeast Cobb Commissioner
Bob Ott and Southwest Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid, though, have been publicly critical.
Ott initially was enthusiastic about the move but quickly turned guarded in his comments, as much of the tea party-driven opposition to the move is originating in his district. But the new stadium would be in his district, so he also has a bit more at stake in terms of the stadium’s impact on traffic, etc.
Cupid has complained that her district has been left behind economically even as the rest of the county improves, and wonders what the district stands to gain from the stadium. Her district also includes the highest percentage of African American voters in Cobb, and stories about how blacks are a steadily declining percentage of Major League Baseball’s fan base have been a staple on sports pages in recent years. So it’s possible that there’s less fan-based enthusiasm there for the move.
But it’s believed that at Tuesday’s meeting that Ott, and possibly Cupid, will probably repeat their already-stated reasons for wariness about the Braves’ move — and then vote to support it. For one thing, it puts the county in a stronger position with the Braves to show a united front via the unanimous vote that Lee predicted. Plus politically and practically, the only way for Ott and Cupid to assure themselves of “a seat at the table” for future commission decisions regarding the stadium and ancillary developments is for them to vote for it Tuesday.
And as a local politico reportedly reminded Cupid late this week, she ran on a platform of working to bring economic development to her district — and the move would mean thousands of new nearby jobs.
AS FOR LESSON 2, Lee looks strong enough to ride out demands from critics to delay the vote or to hold a referendum on the move. He knows that putting the move to a referendum would offer a less certain outcome than the route he has chosen and would give critics more time to unite. And strangely enough, some of those now calling for such a special election are the same people who’ve criticized the county for the “wasteful” $300,000 cost of holding special elections for SPLOSTs and other items.
Moreover, AT suspects that most of those clamoring for more time so they can “analyze” the move have already analyzed it — and decided against it.
AROUND TOWN was the recipient of dueling poll results this week. We reported Tuesday that a phone survey commissioned by Revitalize Marietta and conducted by 20/20 Insight LLC of 3,674 Cobb Republican households had found that 61 percent support the Braves’ move.
Now comes a poll by Lincoln Park Strategies of Washington, D.C., claiming that its survey of 750 likely Cobb voters found that 81 percent favor delaying the vote and 54 percent against using any taxpayer funding to build the stadium. Rick Dent, an Atlanta communications consultant, declined to disclose who commissioned the poll, saying only that that it was “a private economic client.”
AMONG THOSE cheering the move at Thursday night’s Goreham Town Hall meeting were the Rev. Bryan Crute and 20 other pastors and elders from the 4,000-member Destiny Metropolitan Worship Church, which calls the former Sports Life facility off Terrell Mill Road home not far from the new stadium.
“We think (the move) will have a great impact on our church and among guests and game-goers,” upbeat Elder Eric Daniel told Around Town afterward. “It will be an opportunity for us to serve another demographic.”
CONDOLENCES: East Cobb physician Dr. J. Tom Cooper, 78, husband of state Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb), died Thursday after a heart attack. A bariatric specialist, Dr. Cooper also was an Air Force flight surgeon, retiring with the rank of colonel. Cooper authored 11 books and also penned numerous letters to the editor of the MDJ through the years. Funeral services are yet to be announced.
THE BATTLE over the Braves is playing out online as well. The Cobb Home of the Braves page set up on Facebook by supporter John Helton had 1,772 “likes” as of 3:15 p.m. Friday. Meanwhile, the 300millionreasons.com Web page had logged 592 signatures by that hour on a petition against the move.
IT’S NO SECRET that the Atlanta business/political/media community is ticked off by the Braves’ move and are in the midst of a full-bore “delay and derail” pick-off strategy.
Auburn fans’ prayers were answered last Saturday thanks to a last-second “Hail Mary” pass, so we guess we can’t blame in-towners for hoping for a similar outcome on the Braves’ move.
But AT suspects that in the wake of Tuesday’s vote it will be pro-move fans in Cobb who’ll have the most to be thankful for come Thursday.