The news media got it right when they described as “bizarre” Mayor Shirley Franklin’s last / don’t-presume-this-is-my-last news conference December 17. WGCL has posted the unedited news conference. Followers of Franklin, and those intrigued by the give-and-take between a skilled politician and the media will be amused to watch it.
Most of the reporting on Franklin’s newser sidestepped this fact: Franklin’s contentiousness was clearly rooted in her antipathy toward WGCL and, apparently, Wendy Saltzman in particular. Saltzman started the questioning by asking Franklin about the “perception” of high crime, despite statistics to the contrary. Franklin mostly ignored the question.
Morse Diggs of WAGA followed with a question about an expensive party the Water Department threw for its employees. Franklin answered it, but not happily. By the time John Bachman of WSB asked the third question, an unchallenging query about about her legacy, Franklin was clearly fed up and began her weird evasions of almost everything asked.
WGCL has done a lot of good work covering the final years of Franklin’s administration. WGCL more or less owned the story about the city’s whackadoodle water billing. Franklin blew off a reasonable question from Saltzman about that. (Watch Saltzman’s edited Q&A here.)
I don’t mind admitting that I’m an admirer of Shirley Franklin. I suspect history will treat her kindly because of some tough and unpopular decisions she had to make (and because crime dropped sharply during her eight years). I’ve always liked her style, and the fact that her only foray into elective politics was her successful run for mayor. Early in her administration, she treated the media / politician relationship with maturity and humor.
But this was a low moment for Franklin, who gave the news conference an unwelcome Nixonian edge. She accused Saltzman of being rude, but Franklin was ruder. The Mayor cut off questions before they were even asked. She was inconsistent and evasive.
On one hand, Franklin deserves props for declining the “legacy” questions. They posed easy opportunities for her to give self-serving answers. “I didn’t run for office to be popular,” she said instead. It was self-deprecating and anti-politics, adding to her charm.
On the other hand, Franklin is accountable as long as she holds office. There were some serious problems under her administration. She may dislike WGCL’s in-your-face-with-the-tough-questions style (and new “tough questions” mic flags to match. Too bad the real flags aren’t as cool as the graphic representation on the left). But a mayor who has made tough decisions ought to be willing and able to answer challenging questions.
She knew the “tough questions” were coming; she should have answered them gracefully. She’d have probably knocked ’em out of the park.