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The last months of Bunker Bill

Atlanta mayor faces waning days without core advisers

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It must be a strange time to be Bill Campbell.

Once a rising political star, he has only seven months left as Atlanta's mayor. If it lasts even that long. His friends have been subpoenaed to testify in a federal investigation of possible corruption in his administration. And he's reviled by a healthy half of the city he governs.

At the same time, the mayor's not without passionate supporters -- those who feel he's being persecuted, those whose suspicion of the federal government runs bone deep. The city's west side is fervently behind him, says District 3 Councilman Michael Bond. And residents there are tired of seeing their man get hammered in the mainstream press.

Says Bond: "There's an old saying, 'Don't pour water on a drowning man.'"

On Tuesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution devoted an extensive story to Marion Brooks, a former reporter for WSB television, saying that federal investigators want to know who paid for trips she took with Campbell. She isn't a target of the federal probe, the headline reads, so the point of the story seems clear: to further embarrass the mayor. Even some of the mayor's toughest opponents, concerned about the city's reputation, have called for the feds to produce or move on.

As for Campbell himself, he's rarely seen north of downtown. He has shut himself off from the press, save for a select group of black journalists and the odd radio appearance.

When he does publicize his whereabouts, there's rarely much advance warning.

"We don't ever see him," says City Councilwoman Julia Emmons. And he doesn't show up at community events like he used to. Even at April 28th's Inman Park Festival - a celebration in his own neighborhood -- Bill Campbell was nowhere to be found, Emmons says.

With pressure coming from so many directions, Campbell has never been more in need of close advisers -- trusted friends who can give him the counsel to see him through the last days of his second and final term. Yet even in that department Campbell is hurting.

Steve Labovitz, Campbell's former chief of staff, is gone. He's reportedly been questioned in the federal investigation. Larry Wallace, Campbell's former chief operating officer, has also left. The two men are still on friendly terms with Campbell, says Tom Houck, one of Campbell's most vocal backers and an occasional columnist for CL. We'd ask Labovitz himself but he hasn't returned numerous messages.

Perhaps the most significant split Campbell has suffered has been from Kevin Ross, a partner with the tony law firm Hunton & Williams. Ross was the man behind both of Campbell's two successful mayoral bids, and he stuck his neck out for Campbell numerous times. He went to the mat with the mayor during the nasty 1997 race against challenger Marvin Arrington, and he took heat with Campbell over the awarding of an auditing contract to an accounting group that included Ross' brother. And the pair have known one another for 23 years.

Ross declines to comment on his relationship with Campbell, but those who know the pair say he was willing to speak bluntly to Campbell, tell uncomfortable truths, the type of person in short supply these days at City Hall. He was the good angel on Campbell's shoulder, says one political insider.

If there is a rift today between the two men, it may be because Ross has testified before a federal grand jury in the Campbell investigation. Those who know him say Ross was shaken by the experience.

Still, others dismiss any sinister undertones in the split. Campbell and Ross were friends, and Ross was a close adviser, says one insider, but the two were never "buddies." Ross is regarded as a family man, and instead of hitting the town together, at the end of the day Ross just went home.

So who's left for the mayor to turn to? One obvious resource for Campbell is his personal attorney, Michael Coleman. He says he's known Campbell for 20 years, but doesn't elaborate on their personal relationship.

Another adviser is spokeswoman Glenda Blum Minkin, a woman one insider has said is "in way over her head." Minkin was Campbell's director of International Affairs before she took over as head of the Office of Marketing and Communication in January 2000. Before becoming Campbell's media liaison, she was the fundraising coordinator for Campbell's campaigns and the founder of an environmental lobbying group. She's also the wife of David Minkin, a chief Campbell supporter.

"Liaison" might be the wrong word, though. All press secretaries are gatekeepers, but in Minkin's case, she keeps the gates closed and padlocked. If her job is to keep the mayor isolated -- and Campbell may see it that way -- she deserves a raise.

While she may not have much experience, "their relationship is one of total loyalty," says one source.

Another well-placed insider says Campbell is keeping his own counsel, that the mayor has grown more insular and less inclined to look for advice from others now that the ship is listing.

With all the hits Campbell keeps taking, one might expect to see more unanimity within the Mitchell Street offices. Not so.

With the exodus of Labovitz, Wallace and Ross, the mayor's current Cabinet is a fractured bunch. Five of them report to Chief of Staff DeWayne Martin and the other 15 report to current Chief Operating Officer Kenneth Jordan, say two insiders. But those five are an important bunch. They include City Attorney Susan Pease Langford, Chief Financial Officer David Corbin, Human Resources Commissioner Benita Ransom, Atlanta Water Commissioner Remedios del Rosario and Commissioner of Administrative Services Herb McCall.

One source says the split comes down to power and personality -- run-of-the-mill reasons for political infighting.

But it's tough to ignore the significance of five of the positions that report to Martin. They make up the guts of city government, and McCall was mentioned as one of the key figures that gave an unbidded, multimillion dollar contract to a small computer firm that did Y2K work for the city. It has led some to speculate that Campbell wants to keep the heads of sensitive departments closer to him during a time of intense scrutiny by both the media and the federal government.

The move, though, has actually cut down on friction within City Hall. Cabinet meetings, which the no-nonsense Jordan leads, have reportedly gone from lasting hours under Wallace to about 30 minutes.

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