Interview with Maynard Jackson
QUESTION 10
JACKIE SHEARER:

And, um, no, keep rolling, and I'd like us to move on to a description of what the expectation of this airport project were when you took office, from the White community and what your objective was.

MAYNARD JACKSON:

Well, let's remember now, we're talking about building a big project. Ah, more than a half billion dollars. It would be the biggest project in the history of the city of Atlanta, biggest project in the history of the state of Georgia. The bond issue alone, I'm a bond lawyer now with Chapman and Cutler, and the bond issue alone, at that time, 305 million, was the first of several bond issues, was the biggest bond issue of any kind in the history of Georgia, and was the biggest bond issue for an airport in the history of the nation. OK? So we're talking about a huge project. And we're talking about doing it between active runways. Ah, safely. Ah, this, therefore was a challenge not only in, in affirmative action. It was a challenge to management. And we put together a 7-person team, um, had other supporting actors and so forth, but I think it was the finest public management team ever assembled in this country. So I want to emphasize that as we moved toward affirmative action, we always saw that as an issue that had to be managed. And I think this is the key point. Affirmative action is not something that just happens when you sing songs and all of a sudden it jumps off the wall. That's not it. It is to be managed, and those in charge must produce. They must have goals to meet, and they must be judged as managers by their productivity, their success. So we had to build an airport, we had to do it well. We had to do it within budget. We had to do it, um, um, within time, within the time allocation, and simultaneously, it had to be done fairly. Black people, other minorities and women had to have an equal, not superior, but an equal opportunity to participate in the bidding, the contracting, the concessions, top to bottom, of this airport. So we had to manage that entire package. And we did. The result was that, ah, when we announced how we were going to approach this, ah, from a contract compliance point of view, contract compliance meaning, oh, five, six, seven, eight different items, including, but not limited to, affirmative action, ah, I would have thought the heavens were falling down. Ah, we were threatened with litigation, six, seven times a day. A lot of the litigation occurred. Um, I was told that I was retarding the progress of Atlanta. Now, I'm the mayor who found an airport project that was 11 years old that nobody could do. They'd given up on it. They told me I couldn't do it. These are the, you know, the, the long-time bureaucrats of the city, dedicated Atlanta-loving people, but they had never sold encyclopedias, as, as I had, and had never trained people how to sell, and that, had trained themselves in the positive attitude that is part of my life. I am a trained positive thinker. They told me, "You can't build this in that spot." I said, "Why not." They said, "Because Interstate 85 runs right through where you would have a terminal be." I said, "Fine, we'll move the Interstate." And they laughed at me. They said, "That's fine, you know, this kind of Maynard, you know, rookie mayor and so forth, what does he know?" Well, I didn't know a whole lot, but I knew never to say never. And I knew that there's a way to do anything, and we did it too. Now, in the process, by the way, people pitched a fit about affirmative action. We got to the point where we were absolutely being stonewalled, almost across the board. Litigation, threats of more litigation, ah, all kinds of political pressure, ah, Black emissaries coming in to carry the message from, ah, ah, Whites who had an interest in this thing and, ah, there were some Whites who wanted to do what was right, and I want to be sure that's understood. And there were some who simply didn't know what to make of this. You know, we have to understand, I don't agree with it, but our points of orientation were so different, and they just did not understand what to do with this new way, this new administration. They didn't know how to adjust to it, most of them did not, most of the, in the White community and the White power structure. Now the White community itself is not monolithic. I had big support among the neighborhood movement in Atlanta, because I--