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Andrew Young : The Eternal Enthusiast--Down Now, but Certainly Not Out

November 18, 1990|Linda Darnell Williams | Linda Darnell Williams is a financial reporter for The Times. She interviewed the former mayor in his office

ATLANTA — When Maynard Jackson finished his two terms as the first black mayor of Atlanta, he had to leave town to find a suitable job. Such was the degree of enmity felt for Jackson by the city's white economic power structure. In contrast, when Andrew Young was obliged to leave office in 1989, he settled comfortably in a job in the city's northern suburbs--where many of the white businesses had fled in the 1970s when Jackson's election signified that black political power would be running Atlanta for the long term.

Young is chief executive of an international unit of Law Cos.--an architectural, engineering and construction firm that is one of Atlanta's largest private companies. The former congressman and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations can usually be found in a high-rise office with a magnificent view of the north Georgia pine forest. He looks out on Forsyth County, the community that sparked the biggest civil-rights march in decades by the stunning notion of some citizens that, in the 1980s, blacks could be kept out of an entire county.

From his days in the civil-rights movement--including a long stint as a close aide to Martin Luther King Jr.--the 58-year-old Young has been among those pushing hardest to open doors for blacks. But he was always the one that, no matter how strong the demand, whites would feel comfortable talking to. Ordained a Congregational minister, the former mayor has an easygoing style that generally puts people at ease.

It is a quality that served him well in the mayor's office, as he sought to keep Atlanta's economic boom of the 1970s and '80s going at full speed. He was head cheerleader for a community in a class by itself when it comes to civic boosterism. His international clout helped deliver the 1996 Olympic Games to Atlanta. But Young is not a native. Originally from New Orleans, he found his niche in Atlanta during the civil-rights movement and settled there with his wife, Jean, and their four children.

Throughout his public life, Young has displayed an unfailing optimism about his ability to make other people--no matter how wide the difference in point of view--see things his way. Ambassador Young thought talking to the Palestinians was a perfectly reasonable idea regardless of U. S. policy. President Jimmy Carter sacked him. The same optimism last year put Young on the campaign trail in a bid to become Georgia's first black governor. In August, the Democrats of Georgia said no thanks loudly and clearly to the man who helped bring Atlanta closer to realizing its visions of itself as more than just the capital of the South, but an international city.

Question: A lot of people were hopeful about your election after Doug Wilder was elected governor of Virginia. Are Virginia and Georgia so different that a black can't win statewide office here?

Answer: No. I think that if I had the advantage of being lieutenant governor over, say, being a mayor, I would have won. As lieutenant governor, you're not doing anything controversial. Doug Wilder had the full support of the Democratic Party and also the business community of Virginia. He won the nomination in a convention. I had to run in a primary.

Q: In light of the defeat of two black candidates in statewide races in the 1990 election, what are the prospects for '92?

A: It is always difficult, particularly in the states where you have a primary. It means you may have three elections to win. Doug Wilder won in a caucus state. Even so, he had to raise $6 million. One of the problems with Harvey Gantt was he was running (in North Carolina) against Jesse Helms. Jesse is tough. Any other Democrat would have had a hard time. A former governor ran against him and lost.

If I were to run again, I would have a better time. But you never know who's out there. I think it could be possible for a black to win in Texas. There is a Senate seat open in California in '92. Mervyn Dymally might decide to run for Alan Cranston's seat. I always thought Yvonne Brathwaite Burke would make a good candidate for statewide office.

Q: Do you think the old traditional Democratic coalition can keep winning statewide races in the South, or is there a definite shift to the Republicans?

A: I don't see any shift to the Repubicans at all. Whenever the Democrats can keep their coalition together--that is to keep the black community, business community and farm community--then the Republicans don't stand a chance. They will make a little noise in the suburbs, and pick up a few House seats, but won't make much noise statewide.

Q: Are you through with politics?

A: I think of this as a sabbatical. I really want to spend full time on making this business work for the next year or so. But I will be looking again at the governor's race for '94.

Q: Are you interested in national politics--going back to Congress or perhaps a federal appointment?

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