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- AM Staff
By DOUG NURSE The Atlanta Journal-Constitution /www.ajc.com
Published on: 11/07/07
In Milton, politics is a blood sport, not for the tender, the faint of heart, nor the idealistic.The bitter infighting that has plagued the City Council carried over into the campaigns settled in Tuesday's election. The past two months have seen zipping e-mails smearing candidates' honesty, advertisements mocking them and personal, hurtful, back-biting gossip."It reminds me of Vietnam when the country was so split," said Councilman Bill Lusk, who was not up for re-election. "There's so much innate anger. People couldn't harness it. Neighborhoods are split. I've seen friends split, even families. We're picking picking sides when we don't need to be."
Milton, incorporated as its own city a year ago, is known for its sense of country quietude, its black-fenced horse farms, tree-lined roads, and mansions. Subdivisions are hidden away. It is mostly white, conservative, Republican and wealthy. The current average price for a home in Milton is in excess of $800,000.But beneath the peaceful, well-heeled scenery lies a political mean streak.
Defeated Councilman Rick Mohrig said he could not believe how nasty the campaign got."I could show you e-mails challenging my faith, my integrity, attacking my character and my record of what I've accomplished," Mohrig said. "I was surprised at the viciousness."
For instance, one candidate was accused of being gay and a Democrat — the latter purportedly being the worse of the two. A City Council incumbent was accused of falsely claiming to be disabled. A subdivision resident threatened the same candidate over a yard sign. One e-mail said a candidate was so bad his father-in-law supported his opponent. And on and on.
The mayor and an ally on the council picked a side, and campaigned hard. The other two council members picked the other side. The central faultline: mistrust about who would best protect the city from overdevelopment.On one side, the Julie Zahner Bailey; Burt Hewitt; Alan Tart partisans said the Roger Santi; Neal O'Brien; Rick Mohrig ticket couldn't be trusted to fight sewer and accompanying density, pointing to developer contributions.The Santi-O'Brien-Mohrig faction protested it didn't support sewer and density. The three attacked their opponents on a wide range of topics.
The Bailey-Hewitt-Tart slate prevailed with its message of slow growth – no growth, say their opponents.Feeding all this was a virulent two-way e-mail campaign."E-mail is one of the most vicious, misused means of communications ever devised by Al Gore and the rest of the human race," Lusk said.Terry Cecil wrote to protest attacks on candidates he supported, saying, "[They] are reminiscent of McCarthy and are a sad statement for a community that wanted self-governance from Fulton County. ... [It] is sad we let this filth get away with character assassination." Winners say the slash-and-burn campaigning turned off the voters."I think the negative campaigning by my opponent paid off for me," Tart said. The vanquished, of course, say the political shock-and-awe worked."I was struck by the fact that no quarter was given," said fallen Councilman O'Brien. "This is reflective of social landscape in Milton. We'll have to try very hard as a community and as neighbors to leave the negativity behind. I hope we can for the sake of the community."