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The outsider

Gloria Bromell-Tinubu faces two well-funded, well-connected opponents in next year's mayoral election. Does she stand a chance?

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The scenario seems more than a little familiar. Two well-heeled frontrunners, tightly connected to the dominant business and political establishment and flush with campaign contributions, battling it out for the moderate, pro-business middle-of-the-road.

Then, a challenger emerges -- someone broadly respected as a hard-working intellectual unstained by any whiff of scandal, someone with a proven record of involvement in progressive causes.

But this new entrant lacks the long-standing political links to dip deeply into the usual well of major campaign cash and must rely on smaller sums from genuine grassroots sources. "Oh, great ideas, and certainly above reproach personally," nod the political sages. "But let's be practical; the political machines have made their choices. Why waste time on a distraction, maybe even a spoiler? Better to choose one of the big-money candidates. Why vote just to make a statement?"

As the alert reader has probably already deduced from the smiling lady pictured here, this is not a story about George W. Bush, Al Gore and the darkhorse presidential candidacy of the Greens' Ralph Nader. But, without stretching the analogy too far, there are similarities in the entry of Gloria Bromell-Tinubu into the 2001 Atlanta mayoral race.

Unlike the leading candidates thus far -- current City Council President Robb Pitts and City Hall insider Shirley Franklin, the hand-picked successor to Mayor Bill Campbell, each of whom is well on the way to raking up $1 million in campaign funds by year's end -- Bromell-Tinubu doesn't enjoy access to the ready money and influence of Atlanta's political machines. Her record of neighborhood-friendly legislation, demands for open government and opposition to Campbell's Council faction in areas such as police crackdowns on the homeless have already led some local politics watchers to speculate that local businesses -- pro-Campbell and otherwise -- may find her policies worrisome.

But the candidate sees nothing quixotic in her mission.

"I'm not running on principle or to make a statement," she says with a quick grin. "I'm running to win this race, and I think I can do it."

In any case, Bromell-Tinubu's entry guarantees that a different perspective on the issues facing Atlanta will be offered.

"It's time that we get beyond the same old dead ways of looking at problems," says Bromell-Tinubu, an economics professor at Spelman College. "I'm not just a theoretical economist; I'm an applied economist. I deal with specifics, and I deal with them realistically."

It's not the first time she's found herself pushed into an underdog mayoral race. In 1997, she garnered 14 percent of the vote on a shoestring campaign, throwing the election into a runoff between Campbell and Marvin Arrington.

Today, she concedes that the decision to once again enter the muddy waters of Atlanta politics did not come easily. After wrestling with the problem for several months, Bromell-Tinubu resigned in June from Georgia's Board of Education in order to run.

Now, surrounded by African artwork and musical instruments in the cool shade of the home she shares with her Nigerian-born husband and four children, Bromell-Tinubu attempts to reconcile the "two Glorias": pragmatic, bottom-line-oriented, problem-solving Gloria and progressive, outspoken, champion-of-the-downtrodden Gloria.

"I'm all of that," she grins, "and it is a paradox." In partial explanation, she offers a bit of her own biography.

"I come from a rural, poor background," she says. "I was literally raised on an old plantation in South Carolina; my father had a third-grade education, and my mother never got beyond the eighth grade. ... I remember running across those fields, and cooking with my mother at a big old plantation house so the owners -- Wachovia Bank people, who were always very nice to us -- could come down and stay." Her face brightening again with that quick smile, she continues, "And in many ways, I'm still that little girl. ...

"But I also have a Ph.D. in economics, and a background in education, that's true. But that's not who I am; it's what I do. There's a big difference. I may seem paradoxical, but that shouldn't frighten anyone. My life is centered on honesty and truth. And while I may not agree with everyone on everything, there are areas that I think we must agree on."

She cites, as an example, her own battles to overturn the "quality of life" ordinances, passed prior to the 1996 Olympics, that allow police to sweep the city's streets of homeless for offenses such as sleeping in public.

"I think the homeless community and the business community are basically the same," she says. "They're all part of Atlanta, with legitimate needs. ... That's part of the commonality I want to see here. We need to fashion a city where everyone counts."

As part of that goal, Bromell-Tinubu has authored a "Declaration of Independence for the City of Atlanta" (available on her website at www.gloria2001.com), which opens much as its venerated namesake does:

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