In 2002, Shirley Franklin became the first female mayor of Atlanta. In that historic election, Franklin also made history as the first African American woman to be elected mayor in the southern United States. Since then, Franklin has won numerous awards and recognition for her work as a public servant. Today, Franklin is the Barbara Jordan Visiting Professor in Ethics and Political Values for the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT and Senior Advisor with the Ready for Hillary PAC.
I had the opportunity to interview the former mayor at the Texas Conference for Women, where she was part of a robust list of speakers on topics from how to write your best business plan to understanding Twitter.
More from Shirley Franklin on women in politics, Barbara Jordan, and Hillary Clinton below the jump.GC: You were the first African American woman elected mayor of a southern city in the the U.S. Do you think this impacted your experience as an elected official?
SF: I can tell you that when I ran for office, that was not something that came up very much. Most of the voters were interested in whether I could tackle the job, and there was some reluctance to think that a woman had all of the skills in the early months of my campaigning – mostly because people were just not sure if I was the right one to be the first. I had to spend a fair amount of time to prove that I had the complement of skills and experience.
Once I was elected, people talked about my position as a “first” a lot more. It was about time for one of us to run and win. Some women just expressed a sense of relief that we had gotten over that barrier, that the door was open.
I had a sense, through most of my service, that my responsibility was not just to walk through the open door, but that the door was open when I left. I wanted to demonstrate the breadth of capability that any woman could have in such a job. I wanted to keep the door open and make it easier for the second, and the third [woman elected to the office].
GC: In your two terms as mayor, what did you find most challenging, and rewarding?
SF:The most rewarding aspects are being a part of a dynamic community in the discussion and development of public policy and implementation of policy that's going to impact the lives of literally tens of thousands of people. That's also the hardest thing to do. It was the most rewarding, because I knew I would have the opportunity to influence the well being of the city and people who live there. As an example: water and airport infrastructure, those are areas that will have implications for tens of thousands of people for a long time. Precisely because they do, they are often issues that are very complicated, controversial, and difficult to come to a consensus.
GC:You currently serve as the Barbara Jordan Visiting Professor in Ethics and Political Values for the LBJ School at UT. What brought you here, and interested you in the opportunity?
SF: The great Texan herself! To be associated with Barbara Jordan in any way is a great honor. She is one of my sheros! I was fascinated by her intelligence, her integrity, her command of the language, and I learned more about her after I started considering the position. Her legacy is one that I have enjoyed the benefits of.
Secondly, I was fascinated by Texas. Texas is such a vibrant state, it is diverse, it is growing, and it is struggling with some of the issues it confronts. I find the cultural, ethnic, and racial issues very fascinating as an observer. Finally, being on a college campus is a real treat, because it's a space where ideas are readily available. It's delightful!
GC: One last question before we wrap up – you were recently named Senior Advisor for the Ready for Hillary PAC. What made you decide to take on that position?
SF: Its not unlike my interest in Barbara Jordan and her legislative leadership, she was the first. I am completely thrilled to have the possibility that Hillary Clinton would run for president again.
As a die-hard womanist, and someone who studied a little about women in world history, there is no question that we can be great national leaders. Its time for the United States to take that step.