Progressive, State Senator Fort, Faces Corporate-Funded Opponent

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(APN) ATLANTA — One of the few progressive champions in elected office in the Greater Metro Atlanta area, State Sen. Vincent Fort, is facing a challenge by political newcomer Graham Balch, whose campaign is being funded by Atlanta’s downtown business elite.

State Sen. Fort has consistently been one of the few elected officials willing to speak up against the business community and developers, particularly on issues like the public housing demolitions, the privatization of Grady Hospital, and the attack on the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless.

And in a City where Dr. Martin Luther King launched the Civil Rights Movement, Sen. Fort is also one of the few public officials today engaging in the tactics of political protest and nonviolent direct action. For this, Fort is being attacked.

The race in State Senate District 39–a district which runs from Atlanta’s Midtown, on south to the City of East Point–is heating up as one of the most closely-watched races this election season.

Fort has served in the State Senate from 1997 to the present. He also served as President of the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board (APAB) in the early 1990s.

ATTACK ON PROGRESSIVE ACTIVISM

One of Balch’s funders, former East Point City Council member Kevin Hudson, attacked Fort’s tactics in an interview with Georgia Voice magazine.

Hudson said he was concerned some of Fort’s “tactics and public statements have left him with little precious little ability to work with the other senators, both within the Fulton County Delegation and the Senate as a whole.”

Fort tells Atlanta Progressive News he believes the business community has united behind Balch’s candidacy not only to unseat Fort in and of itself, but to send a message to other progressive elected officials that they should think twice before protesting the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce on anything it wants.

“It’s intended to send a message… You should check with corporate interests before you make any decision,” Fort said.

“[US Rep.] John Lewis has been arrested while Congressman at the South African Embassy. People in this town revere Dr. King, but don’t believe in civil disobedience, the core of what Dr. King was, resistance to evil, resistance to wrong,” Fort said.

Fort told APN he believes he has been effective, despite or perhaps because of, his progressive activism.

Fort’s bill championing hate crimes legislation, particularly to protect victims of homophobic attacks, has passed twice out of the State Senate, but not out of the House. He supported a prior bill in 2000 that passed but that got watered down and was later found unconstitutional for being too vague.

Fort’s bill fighting predatory lending won national attention and became the model bill for other states to outlaw predatory lending in their states. A bill in Georgia was passed in 2002, although the legislature “gutted it” in 2003, Fort said.

“In 2002, we beat the biggest financial institutions in the world. We started a movement. After Georgia was California, New Jersey, New York. It was the most comprehensive anti-predatory lending bill in the country,” Fort said.

Fort adds that he was responsible for bringing backs millions of dollars for new buildings at Atlanta-area colleges in the past few years.

“In 2007, the Department of Technical and Adult Education had a project on its list, a 14 million dollar health science building. It was rated number five on the list. In the Governor’s original budget, he funded 1 through 4, jumped 5, and funded 6 through 10,” Fort said.

“It came to the Senate. Some people said, Fort leave it alone ’til next year. I said, I’m very persistent. Next year will be another excuse. I slapped backs, fussed, kissed, hugged, and got 14 million dollars in the budget,” Fort said.

In 2008 he claims to have brought back 4 million dollars for a library at Atlanta Tech. In 2009, he claims to have brought back 2.5 million for architecture and design of a science building at Atlanta Metropolitan College. In 2010, he claims he got another 10.9 million for construction of the science building.

Fort’s leadership in Atlanta’s progressive community is clear from a review of the archives of Atlanta Progressive News, where Fort has appeared in about 60 articles since the news service’s founding in 2005, that is, about 8 percent of APN’s articles.

Some highlights include: Fort’s legislation for a death penalty moratorium in Georgia; Fort’s advocacy for Grady patients including getting arrested at a Grady meeting; Fort’s advocacy for MARTA and public transportation; Fort’s opposition to predatory lending, including getting arrested at Wells Fargo; Fort’s advocacy for public housing residents in opposition to their evictions; Fort’s support of immigration reform; Fort’s opposition to Rev. Warren’s speech in Atlanta; Fort’s criticism of the partnership between the Southern Christian Leadership Council and Compucredit; Fort’s opposition to aggressive military recruiting in schools; Fort’s opposition to Atlanta’s panhandling ban; Fort’s opposition to a proposed City of Atlanta free speech zone for limiting protests; and Fort’s criticism of the Gateway Center throwing out homeless women in the cold, for just some examples.

BALCH’S FUNDING FROM THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY

Many key players among Atlanta’s corporate elite made contributions to Balch’s campaign, including Tim McCabe of Coca Cola; former Council President Lisa Borders; David Easterly, Board Member of Cox Enterprises; Humberto Garcia of Coca Cola; Paul Topping of Georgia Pacific; April Bohannon of Cox Enterprises; AJ Robinson, President of Central Atlanta Progress; Anne Cox Chambers of Cox Enterprises; Sam Williams, President of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce (MACOC); Frank McCloskey of Georgia Power; Pete Correll of MACOC; Tom Bell of MACOC, also Vice Chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce; and Jimmy Williams, Chairman of the Woodruff Foundation.

Out-of state financial interests also funded Balch’s campaign, including Nicholas Apostolator of Morgan Stanley; Joyce Hsieh of Goldman Sachs; and Hunter Pierson of Goldman Sachs.

Notably, Balch has also received donations from the campaign of Atlanta Councilman Howard Shook (District 7), and from Councilman Alex Wan (District 6).

Ironically, Wan has also attacked Atlanta Progressive News for using what he described on bullying tactics, when APN sent emails to Council Members asking how they voted during the February 2010 secret vote. Wan thus attacked APN’s tactics in a similar manner that Balch’s supporters have attacked Fort’s tactics.

As of the March 31 disclosure, Balch had raised over 75,000 dollars, a rare if not unprecedented amount for a campaign effort to unseat an incumbent.

BALCH’S RIGHT-WING CONSULTING FIRM

Balch’s December 2009 disclosure shows an expenditure to Sand Mountain Communications.

Sand Mountain Communications is a consulting firm, which has, among other things, advised Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine in his campaign for the Republican nomination for Governor.

Todd Rehm, founder and owner of Sand Mountain Communications, advocates for the Dekalb Tea Party Patriots among other Right-wing causes.

BALCH’S ATTACK ON TASK FORCE FOR THE HOMELESS

Balch criticized the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless in response to a previous article by the Atlanta Progressive News concerning the efforts by the City of Atlanta to shut off the shelter’s water.

“The Pine Street shelter is a very poorly run homeless shelter,” Balch alleged in an email to Atlanta Progressive News.

“Drug dealers check in to do their deals,” Balch said, without any evidence to support the claim.

“And, though the shelter does have some programs, in general it warehouses homeless people rather than serving as a transitional service that helps people get back on their feet after being homeless,” Balch said, again, without any first-hand knowledge of the shelter, repeating claims made by agencies like Central Atlanta Progress. When questioned in depositions, CAP officials were unable to substantiate any of their criticisms of the Task Force.

“It is such a poorly run shelter that does nothing to actually alleviate homeless [sic] in Atlanta that I and others want it removed,” Balch said.

Sen. Fort, on the other hand, has been a strong ally of, and advocate for, the Task Force.

BALCH’S CONTROVERSIAL BLOG STATEMENTS

Balch made several controversial comments on his blog on the Barack Obama campaign’s website.

First, he was so opposed to then-US Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) becoming the Democratic nominee for President of the US, he said he would not vote for her even if she was the nominee. This suggests he would have abstained from voting or voted for the Republican nominee.

“I still believe despite a good night that HRC cannot win the nomination. But if she does, I cannot vote for her… I believe in the Democratic party, I will fight for the Democratic party. But I will not vote for HRC.”

Balch insulted Clinton voters saying her base was “uneducated voters.”

He also proposed a realignment of US Departments, including eliminating the Department of Labor and transferring its functions to the Department of Commerce.

(END/2010)

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

Revised syndication policy:

Our syndication policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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