Andrew Young, Atlanta’s mayor from 1982-90 and U.S. representative from Georgia’s 5th district 1973-77, reviewed the benefits and pitfalls Atlanta has experienced in its emergence on the global stage during a keynote address at a summit of the World Chamber of Commerce the evening of May 4.
The event at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park highlighted the efforts to combat sex trafficking in Atlanta and Georgia with awards presented to Roosevelt Council Jr., general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and the leaders of organizations aiding the victims.
Having achieved its status as a global city, Mr. Young said that Atlanta now finds itself “in the center of all of the troubles of the world.”
“Sometimes that’s the worst place to be,” he added recollecting that when he was mayor he once prompted a group of young girls to run away when he entered a coffee shop and learned that they were engaged in prostitution instead of attending school.
Social problems now sweep across all continents as national borders have evaporated, he added citing the cases of Chinese families that have forced their children into prostitution as a means of survival.
He blamed the break up of families as partially responsible for the plague of human trafficking drawn to Atlanta as a convention and logistics center as well as bad social policies that leave people unable to support themselves.
“I’m basically a preacher” he added, citing the verse from one of his favorite hymns “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal,” and acknowledged the positive role played by his grandmother in raising him.
“I think in Atlanta we have tried to find things to keep families together,” he said, even praising the ability of the city’s Muslim communities for maintaining discipline at home and reducing crime in their neighborhoods. “Most of this comes back to a sound education system, but don’t think that there are any quick fixes.”
With his 85th birthday on June 3 fast approaching, Mr. Young was obviously in a reflective mood and acknowledged that “things are complicated” in political as well as social realms.
Pulling out of his coat pocket a cell phone, he said that its computing power equalled that of four mainframe computers the city owned when he first became mayor. Its ability, he added, to communicate with anywhere in the world coupled with international flows of capital had eroded national borders and changed the global landscape.
“That we must live together in one world is what drives this little thing,” he said holding up his phone. “And it’s business that is going to be our main force.”
He traced his recognition of the unity of the globe to a book his father forced him to read at age 12 before letting him attend a YMCA camp. That book titled “One World” by presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie , criticized the absence of the U.S.’s support for the League of Nations as contributing to unleashing World War II.
“These damn things,” he said still holding up the phone, “make us One World.”
After having served as the U.S. representative to the United Nations during the Carter administration, Mr. Young successfully ran for mayor in 1981. As he assumed office, the Reagan administration abruptly cut off the federal government’s aid to cities providing a financial crisis for Atlanta and its new mayor.
Without Georgia native Jimmy Carter in the White House, Mr. Young realized that he would have to develop other sources of revenue for the city should it continue to grow and provide jobs.
His background as a congressman and as the ambassador to the United Nations provided him with the answer as did his experience on the House Banking and Urban Development Committee, which exposed him to places in the world that had money looking for investment opportunities.
Thus began his so-called globe trotting where he promoted the city as an international business center and began to attract investments from around the world. Despite his success in attracting overseas investments here, he did not rule out entirely the need for regulations and tariffs of some sort at the borders.
“We were running deficits in the state capital,” he told the more than 200 attendees at the event. “I said our only hope is to become a truly international city and that’s pretty much what happened.”
Former Presidents Carter and William Clinton are hosting a birthday tribute for Mr. Young at the Philips Arena downtown on June 3. Tickets to attend range from $1,000 to $50. To reserve a seat, either visit ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000 or philipsarena.com or call 404-878-3000.