By Itoro N. Umontuen
“I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s what I call an act of war.”
Those words were said by Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as she metaphorically told Georgia Public Broadcasting that anyone wishing to wrestle control of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport away from the City of Atlanta would have a fight on their hands.
While an act of war is commonly defined as action by one country against another with an intention to provoke a war or an action that occurs during a declared war or armed conflict between military forces of any origin. In this case, the “faction” that has provoked Mayor Bottoms’s response is Republican State Senator Burt Jones of Jackson. Jones believes Hartsfield-Jackson should be wholly owned and operated by the state of Georgia for procurement and oversight purposes. In other words, the State of Georgia would keep whatever profits Hartsfield-Jackson generates, and metaphorically dismiss African-Americans from Georgia’s highest economic and political resource. He authored a bill titled Senate Bill 131 which passed along party lines in the Senate Transportation Committee despite opposition by the City of Atlanta and Delta Air Lines, whose headquarters and largest hub is Atlanta.
While some concerned observers believe Republicans in the state of Georgia are following Governor Brian P. Kemp’s commands in an obsequious manner, there is precedent with state and local battles for a state’s airport.
Charlotte, North Carolina is the financial and cultural capital of the Tar Heel state. The North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill that created a commission that sought control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport in July 2013. It was called the Charlotte Airport Commission. Republican-led state legislators said the move was needed to protect the airport from meddling by the city, while city officials called the move a power grab. Sounds familiar?
The Charlotte Airport Commission was acting on the behalf of the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly. In October 2014, a superior court judge issued an injunction and blocked the commission from taking over Charlotte Douglas. Ultimately, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement on June 6, 2016 which declared any changes in airport ownership must be filed first with the FAA and both sides must be in agreement.
“Seeking to change an airport’s ownership, sponsorship, governance, or operations is a local decision,” the FAA said, when asked about the policy guidance. “The state or local government must file an application for FAA approval of such a change. The clarification provides guidance as to FAA’s expectation that all local parties should be in agreement before filing the application.”
With that in mind, it can be concluded that Hartsfield-Jackson will ultimately remain with the City of Atlanta. However, the story and the political fight doesn’t end here. It’s never that simple.
The plot of land that sits on the end of Camp Creek that houses the world’s busiest airport turned into a huge money-making machine when former mayor Maynard Jackson authorized construction of the current domestic terminal in 1977. The project cost $500 million and upon completion in 1980, it could accommodate up to 55 million passengers per year. The new terminal was under budget and on schedule. It also was part of Jackson’s commitment to elevating African-Americans into more prominent leadership positions throughout the city, ensuring they would have a seat at the world’s commercial and economic tables.
The airport that currently bears his last name has had its share of ethics issues and even indictments. Even though, Bottoms has reiterated those improprieties took place decades ago and not on her watch, she said the city is cooperating with the feds regarding all active investigations.
Even though former Governor Nathan Deal and former Mayor Kasim Reed had a great relationship, it was Deal that sided with Democrats and killed off any State takeover talks. Governor Kemp hasn’t said anything about it and it’s his silence that is aiding, abetting and arousing Republicans with the belief the takeover is a good idea. Conservatives know it would be a great feather in their cap to wrestle control of Georgia’s largest asset from Atlanta, in the name of “reform.” The move would then open the door for Conservatives to exact their will upon the City of Atlanta as they see fit.
As the fight rages on for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Saturday was Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Junior’s birthday. With his spirit in mind, the “act of war” Mayor Bottoms mentioned is greater than controlling the world’s busiest airport in America’s ninth largest metropolitan city. It would alter the legacy left by Maynard Jackson forever.
This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Voice.