One problem with Mayor Andrew J. Young, some critics suggest, is that as this city's second black mayor he often acts less like Maynard Jackson's hand-picked successor and more like some "smart-alecky white boy," to twist Young's famous phrase.
Labor leaders, neighborhood activists, former political foes and sometime-allies complain that Young is too close to the white business community and too distant from the city's poor.
The mayor's aggressive "pro-growth" policy, they say, threatens to destroy the character of city life. His vision for Atlanta is long on hope and short on follow through, says City Council President Marvin S. Arrington.
As the critics are talking, however, Young is walking -- virtually unopposed in today's nonpartisan election. He is seeking another term as one of only two "second generation" black mayors in the nation's largest cities.
At the same time, the 53-year-old former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations maintains his profile as one of the nation's leading black Democrats, even a potential candidate for president or vice president.
"No one's running against him because he can't be beaten," said Fulton County Commission Chairman Michael L. Lomax, one of several ambitious black politicians in line to replace Young. "He's a political superstar. Voters like him, and not only do they like him, they trust him."
Young's chief political worry today is not his own fate but that of the City Council members whose support he covets on development issues. He hopes to maintain the one-vote pro-development majority that has supported him on most "growth" controversies.
Beyond his second term, Young says he may run for governor in 1990 but is not interested in a 1988 presidential run or in returning to Congress. Young said he would not rule out the vice presidency but would think long and hard about any Cabinet post.
"Once you've been a mayor, where you're running something, it's hard to do anything where you're not the boss," he said, "It's even hard to be in a Cabinet position, where inevitably there will be a whole lot of smart-assed white boys in the White House manipulating you behind your back." Young once described aides in Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign as "smart-assed white boys" who didn't know what they were doing.
The backdrop for Young's almost certain reelection -- his opponents include a tire shop owner, a detective and a comedian -- is vastly different from 1981.
Then, Fulton County Commissioner A. Reginald Eaves contested Young's claim to the black vote and forced him into a runoff with a white state representative, Sidney Marcus. Voting polarized along racial lines.
White businessmen who snubbed Young in 1981 have fallen into line behind him, sometimes grudgingly.
Even supporters of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who accused Young of being "on the wrong side of black history" for not backing Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign and who booed Young at the Democratic National Convention that year, have failed to field a candidate.
"It's kind of like Ronald Reagan," complained state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, who aborted his own run against Young. "He Young has that Teflon kind of protective shield around him. He can be terrible, but the people still like him."
In many respects, the success story of Young's first term is tied to his role as a "second generation" black mayor. Young and the District of Columbia's Marion Barry are the only mayors of major American cities to have succeeded fellow blacks.
By the time Young was sworn in as the 55th mayor of Atlanta, in January 1982, Maynard Jackson had waged many of the initial battles -- fighting to earn blacks a piece of the action in city and federal contracting plans and integrating the city bureaucracy, especially its uniformed services.
Jackson's juggling of the great expectations of Atlanta's blacks, two-thirds of the city's residents, and a sometimes uneasy business community, were perceived generally to give blacks an upper hand, observers say. By the end of his tenure, blacks, especially those in the middle class, seemed much better off, but there were deep anxieties in the overwhelmingly white city establishment.
Young reached out to the business community and made friends. He also maintained good relations with the new media, which frequently warred with Jackson. Builder Larry L. Gellerstedt Jr., a fund-raiser for Marcus in 1981 and now for Young, calls the mayor "a unique man for this particular time in Atlanta history" with "an ability for bringing people together."
"I think I profited a lot by what I think were Maynard's mistakes," Young said.
But when compared with Jackson, many say, Young seems to pay little attention to blacks and the poor -- a charge that Young rejects. The minority-group share of city contracts reached an all-time high last year, he said. And blacks, he added, benefit from developments that carry no racial label, such as new businesses built with the aid of minority contractors and staffed by large shares of black employes at all levels.
"Essentially, what blacks need to do is be a part of the mainstream of the American economic and political life, and in Atlanta, they're having that opportunity," Young said.
Eaves, who ran against Young in 1981, says Young's ties to the development community have left blacks in the cold. "There just has been a tremendous polarization in terms of what is perceived as what the power structure wants for the city and what the community wants," Eaves said.
The criticism is somewhat ironic. Unlike most black mayors of the past two decades, Young did not inherit a city on the ropes and/or fighting near-collapse.
Atlanta has a high proportion of poor. One-tenth of its citizens live in public housing. But it also is a city on the make, well-situated to lure national and international investment -- and that's what Young has most tried to do.
The mayor boasts that during his first term, the city issued $2 billion worth of building permits and 2,603 business licenses. Unemployment is down from 9.7 percent to 7.7 percent and 32,812 more people were working in August than when Young became mayor in January 1982.
Campaigning in the city, Young cites this economic boomlet to deflect criticism of his pro-growth attitude and his travels, which have taken him to Jamaica, Trinidad, Tunisia, Nigeria, England, Sweden, Finland and -- in one two-month period -- three times to Paris.
In 1982 and 1983, the trips netted $103 million in international investment in the Atlanta metropolitan area and 3,600 new jobs.
Answering another criticism, Young says his support for a merger of city and county governments, considered political heresy by those who fear dilution of the black vote, would prevent blacks from losing influence over important issues that go beyond city government.
"The black community and the liberal community are strong enough to hold their own if the boundaries are expanded," he assured a breakfast of labor leaders.
For the time being, the hot issue is "growth" and the clash between Young and a group of neighborhood activists who question the extent of that growth, particularly large transportation projects.
The mayor's working majority on the council regarding growth issues is a scant 10-to-9. And neighborhood groups are enthusiastically challenging two of those seats with candidates of their own.
Many local observers suggest, however, that even in the council races, the neighborhood movement is too tepid politically to burn Young, more because of Young's strength than its weakness.
"We have extraordinary political talent in Atlanta, both black and white," Rep. Wyche Fowler Jr. (D-Ga.) said. "For him to not have major opposition is the highest compliment to what his leadership has accomplished."