Widely known consumer-protection guru Clark Howard is considering running for Atlanta mayor when Shirley Franklin's term expires at the end of 2009.
Clark, here's a message from one professional advice peddler to another: Don't do it.
Step back and take a hard look at what such a campaign would entail. A 52-year-old white guy would be taking on the Atlanta black establishment to capture Atlanta City Hall.
To most informed observers, such a race looks like an impossible mission from the get-go. Sonny Perdue could become Atlanta mayor easier than Howard, who looks too much like a high-energy boat rocker.
Lisa Borders, the Atlanta City Council president, is seen as the current establishment favorite to become mayor.
Barring a major change in the political climate, Borders is likely to remain the establishment's pick right up until Election Day.
Besides, media types don't often make good candidates. They usually talk too much. Their faces turn red or their noses grow longer when they fib.
A long time ago, Hal Suit, news director and anchor for the largest TV station in the state, ran as a Republican for governor. Though Suit was a household name and obviously a likeable and informed candidate, Democrat Jimmy Carter stomped him at the polls.
Don't get us wrong. We're not advising Clark to avoid running completely - just try for another office, one in which he can do some real good. The Atlanta mayor's office is probably not one of those places.
Clark should go for governor.
Georgia is desperate for someone with people-helping expertise. Georgia has one of the poorest records on consumer protection in the nation. Our failures to shield consumers grow worse by the day, even as neighboring states try to reform their protection laws.
In a state election race, a good-deed media type with a solid people platform might be able to overcome the media curse.
Clark's fans don't think of him as a reporter. They look at him as a friend who can help them avoid personal financial problems.
While conventional candidates rail about stem-cell research, immigration, evolution and gay marriages, Clark Howard could turn to other matters to attract immediate voter interest: How to avoid credit-card fraud, how to buy a car, what the banks won't tell you, etc. And, of course, he would take on the big utilities at every turn.
Suppose Howard had been in the driver's seat in the Capitol when the following occurred: Last week, Georgia public health workers left more than 280,000 birth certificates sitting curbside, perhaps for days. The certificates contained parents' names and Social Security numbers.
A spokesman said the state Public Health Division once employed a "competent and dependable person" to shred old vital statistics, but that person died several weeks ago and has not been replaced. So no one apparently bothered to destroy the records.
Stand by, because here come the identity pirates, ready to steal official records and create entirely new accounts and credit histories using unprotected folks' personal identification to buy heaven knows what.
Last month, Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services lost a compact disc containing names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of 2.9 million Georgians on Medicaid or PeachCare for children.
So more precious information booty is floating around, just waiting to be filched and used by data pirates, who have already found Georgia a fertile ground.
In 2005 (the last year for which figures were available), more than 260,000 Georgians were victimized by identity thieves. Each victim lost an average of $1,000 in cash, and each incident of mass theft cost businesses at least $10,000 to repair.
Allison Wall, executive director of Georgia Watch, a nonpartisan consumer advocacy group, says the legislature has refused for two consecutive years to institute a "credit-freeze" law that would allow consumers to shut down identity thieves in their tracks.
Not surprisingly, Big Business' best buds in the Statehouse want no part of consumer-protection measures, though our state ranks ninth in per-capita rate of identity theft. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia already have credit-freeze laws.
A pro-people governor - say, a Clark Howard - would not hesitate in demanding credit-freeze legislation to stop the major credit-reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion - from releasing any information to potential creditors when identity theft is suspected.
This is not nuclear-science legislation. It has worked elsewhere. Why hasn't it been tried here?
Perhaps because the big three credit-reporting agencies maintain a huge presence in Atlanta and are known to be cozy with the governor and key House members.
The reporting agencies understand that credit-freeze legislation might cause them additional corporate headaches. Too bad that we ordinary consumers do not engender such concern about our welfare.
So, Clark, forget mayor. Being governor is a much better job. You can help many more folks who really need help. And you'll have your own state air force. You won't have to go to Birmingham anymore to find cheap flights.
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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