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Perdue plays favorites in Fulton race



Lucky Karen Handel. When she runs to become chairwoman of the Fulton County Commission, she'll do so with the blessing of Gov. Sonny Perdue and all the fundraising benefits it's sure to bring.

But in giving his imprimatur to Handel, who has never won elected office, Perdue has set up a test of his traction in metro Atlanta. The governor's power base is still seen as residing in middle Georgia, not Sandy Springs. What's more, his wobbly leadership during the first legislative session had some within the party grumbling. Handel's race will say a lot about Perdue's current popularity -- whether the governor's name is enough to discourage other Republicans from getting into the race and motivate voters to go to the polls for Handel.

Perdue's endorsement of Handel means the governor passed over one of the more qualified candidates to succeed outgoing Fulton Chairman Mike Kenn, whose abrupt resignation is necessitating a November special election. Lee Morris was a two-term Buckhead representative and budget guru who proved himself one of the few sane and erudite voices on a council that too often rubberstamped former Mayor Bill Campbell's dubious directives.

Morris, a moderate Republican, who ran campaigns for City Council by meeting voters door-to-door and refusing to accept donations of more than $100, guesses that Handel now has better county-wide name recognition, having lost to Robb Pitts in November's District 2 at-large commissioner's race. (As of Monday morning, Pitts, a Democrat, would only say he was "leaning" toward running for the seat. Meanwhile, Atlanta school board member Mitzi Bickers has already started her campaign.)

"When I ran in 1993, people were surprised that I did not go out and seek endorsements, and in effect, seek permission from the powerbrokers in Buckhead," Morris says. "I just went to the voters. As I said many times in 1993 and again in '97, the folks who will give you $2,000 each only have one vote."

But the most Morris has ever raised for a City Council race is just $42,000. So don't expect him to decline contributions of more than $100 in 2003, especially when Handel, the former CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, can avail herself of Perdue's fundraising levers.

"I would love to do that, but I don't believe I can do that in a very short race," Morris says of the $100 limit. "I would love to have people feel that the people own that seat, which is what I think the people of the 7th council district felt during the eight years I was in office. I had so many people send me checks who said they had never contributed to a candidate before, and boy, that really reinforces your concept of public service."

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