You built a house of cards, And got shocked when you saw them fall.
— The White Stripes
Albany, once the proud crown jewel of Georgia’s southern region, has an identity crisis.
Flamed by smoldering resentment and the stubborn vestiges of a racial divide that its citizens refuse to close, this once paragon of the Flint has mortgaged its future by refusing to reconcile its past.
And the mortgage payments are starting to come due.
While sister South Georgia cities like Valdosta, Thomasville, Tifton and Cordele — even once dwarfed neighbor Lee County/Leesburg — have made strides in improving aging infrastructure and have made advancements by utilizing the fresh ideas of their vibrant young citizens, Albany remains mired in a past whose legacy is steeped in animosity and mistrust.
The good-old-boy white power structure that ruled the city for so long has been replaced by a good-old-boy black power structure, and about the only notable change is in the group that is crying foul.
Many of the city’s black leaders have embraced the “payback” mentality and used it to alienate a huge segment of the city’s tax base. And whites only recently knocked from their perches of power choose to either pack up their substantial toys and move north — many into Lee County — or use their resources to fight any change that doesn’t include concessions to their presumed significance.
And while this not-so-subtle power struggle is waged at not-so-clandestine meetings at local restaurants, residences and other gathering places, the infrastructure keeps crumbling and the city’s most valuable resource — its talented young people — keeps moving away in droves.
There’s no optimism in this once-proud city, no sense that we all stand together as one. Such sentiment surfaces every now and then in traditional or extreme cases — during the Flood of ‘94, at Albany State University homecoming, during the downtown Mardi Gras/marathon weekend — but it just as quickly vanishes with the next outrage.
At the height of its prominence, Albany was ruled over with an iron fist by James H. Gray Sr., the media magnate/mayor who turned the city into his own Chicago, Richard Daley-style. The behind-the-scenes stories of his absolute power are shocking — some awe-inspiring, some deplorable — but he did at least put his own money where his mouth was.
Today, the Good Life City is governed primarily by men and women whose personal agendas — frequently at odds — far excede the “greater good” that so many falsely trumpet. While it may be impossible to know what resides in a man’s heart, his actions usually are revealing.
Albany does have good things going for itself. There are lots of good and successful people here, people like Anthony Parker, Chris Cannon, David Maschke, Mark Grimaldi, John Culbreath, Bo Henry, Jeff Sinyard, Stewart Campbell, Romney Smith, Dallas Davidson, Bobby McKinney, James Taylor ... individuals who while rising in their chosen fields have worked to better their community as well.
Yet the city exacts a toll on those who would rise above its ongoing ugly internal fray.
The community was stunned this week to hear that Maschke, a voice of reason on a dysfunctional school board, had decided not to seek another term in office. The man has said the right things since making the announcement, that he wants to devote more time to his work and family — and he does. There is not a more devoted family man in these parts.
But anyone who has even remotely observed the recent goings-on of the school board knows that Maschke was beaten to submission by a group that became increasingly less concerned with the students they were chosen to represent and more intent upon “making others pay for past injustices” and showing that they could do what they damn well pleased with their four votes.
Without Maschke’s watchdog presence on the board, expect even less accountability from its membership ... and continued decline of a once-proud school system.
Maschke’s decision is a sad day for Albany, and its repurcussions may be felt for years to come. But in a city that’s going through a prolonged identity crisis with no end in sight, such decisions are sadly becoming par for the course.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.