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Bill Campbell’s Campaign for his Life
By: Maynard Eaton
Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Voice
Originally posted 2/22/2006

ATLANTA (NNPA) – For 20 years Bill Campbell was the consummate politician –the quintessential child of the civil rights movement who courageously integrated a North Carolina grade school.

He then parlayed his prestigious law degree into an Atlanta city council seat that surprisingly catapulted him to stunning victories in two bitter mayoral campaigns against opponents pundits perceived to be more savvy and popular -- former Fulton County Chairman Michael Lomax and, four years later, former Atlanta City Council President Marvin Arrington.

Now Campbell, the charismatic and controversial former two-term Atlanta mayor [1994 to 2002] is mired in a mess – three weeks into a hotly contested, racially charged and contentious federal trial – that could imprison him for decades because prosecutors allege he used his office as a criminal enterprise.

Despite damning testimony suggesting Campbell’s culpability for bribery, racketeering and fraud – as well as embarrassing evidence of his salacious five-year extra-martial love affair with former WSB-TV anchorwoman Marion Brooks and other women being unearthed during the taxing and telling trial thus far – the former Mayor has employed and attempted to engineer a public relations strategy that amounts to a poignant political campaign for validation and vindication.

It’s perhaps the most critical campaign of his life because it really is for his life.

Campbell has been omnipresent, appearing at Black churches, public functions, senior citizen homes and Coretta Scott King’s funeral and defiantly maintaining his innocence.

The Atlanta Voice caught up with Campbell at a Midtown media-mixer recently sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club.

Q: How is the trial going from your perspective?

A: It’s now been two weeks and virtually everyday has been terrific. The first

Q: How long do you expect that to last?

A: Everybody’s saying I’m great or the trial. In terms of the government’s case, I think it will go another two or three weeks.

Q: What do you think of the prosecution thus far?

A: I’ve never thought much of them.
It’s a terribly flawed prosecution and a terribly flawed prosecution team.

Q: Can you give me one example why?

A: It’s like [Franz] Kafka said, ‘First the verdict, then the trial.’ This has been an almost eight-year inquisition where they have gone through every aspect of my life. They’ve paraded every friend that I have in front of the Grand Jury – every golfing friend, every poker buddy, every African-American businessman who did [City Hall] contracts – they’ve all been hauled in. It is shameful what they have done. Their conduct has been nothing short of disgraceful.

Q: Is race a factor here?

A: There is no doubt that race plays a factor in this prosecution. For anybody who saw the disgraceful response to Hurricane Katrina; anybody who was living in some fantasy land who thought that race does not play a role in America today that should have been a stark reminder that race continues to be a problem.

Q: Are black mayors and politicians still being unfairly persecuted in your opinion or are you perceived as just a bad apple who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar?

A: Every Black mayor – [San Francisco’] Willie Brown, [Houston’s] Lee Brown, [New Orleans’s] Marc Morial, [Newark’s] Sharp James, [Philadelphia’s] John Street, [Atlanta’s] Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young – it’s no accident that a roll call of every Black mayor in America over the past 20-years has been investigated in some way, shape or form. That’s a shocking statement about how things are. It’s more of an indictment of the system than it is of those mayors.

Q: This is the trial of your life. It has to be daunting and fearful.

A: The only thing that concerns me is the entire weight of the Justice department. They have a courtroom full of FBI, IRS and government agents. When it is all said and done, the case is paper-thin. It really has no connection with me. But I will prevail. I will be vindicated. I don’t know of a civil rights leader worth anything that hasn’t had to endure the weight of government investigations on them. Name one.

Q: This has been costly and personally painful, has it not?

A: No doubt. It has cost both financially and emotionally. What hurts is to hear people hurting about you.

Q: I heard you tell a well-wisher that this is like a campaign again. Is that how you see it?

A: Somebody that’s mayor of Atlanta, you are always campaigning in a sense. I used to go out with Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young; you are always the mayor of Atlanta, no matter where you go or what you do. So to that extent, it is always a campaign mode – people want to know about you and what you are doing. They are interested in your life because you have played such a role in their lives in the city of Atlanta.

Q: When this trial is over and if you are exonerated, what will you say or do then?

A: I will go to church and give thanks because I have had such spiritual support. It has been humbling to have the support of so many people of faith. I don’t think I have walked by anybody in Southwest Atlanta during the past six months who hasn’t said, ‘I’m praying for you.’

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