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Former mayor joins municipal Hall of Fame

ALBANY, Ga. -- Among the people of Dougherty County, Tommy Coleman is perhaps best known as the gaunt, multi-term mayor of the city of Albany who spent years walking through city hall clad in his tortoise-shell spectacles and cloaked in the banner of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

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Former Albany Mayor Tommy Coleman is seen in this photo from 1995. Coleman has been inducted in the Georgia Municipal Association’s Hall of Fame.

But for others, namely his professional colleagues and adversaries, Coleman is much more -- a lawyer for which the there is no "private practice," given the very public nature in which he's lived his professional life over the last 40 years.

Monday, at the end of the Georgia Municipal Association's annual convention, Coleman was one of three tapped by the organization for a lifetime body of work in the public eye and enshrined into the the GMA's Hall of Fame.

"I'm honored that they did that," Coleman said Tuesday after returning to Albany. "It's one thing for lay people to recognize you, but it's another thing altogether for people who know the business you're in -- colleagues and elected officials -- recognize you. It means a lot."

Coleman has been in the public eye for much of his life, but only a portion of that has been directly in politics.

At 18, the budding semi-professional guitar player got bit by the political bug when he got hooked up with Bill Stuckey's campaign for Congress.

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Tommy Coleman

"That's when I was first really exposed to politics and I kind of liked it," Coleman said. "But I didn't run for office until the 1975 city commission election."

Coleman spent four and a half years on the commission before attracting the attention of Georgia Gov. George Busbee, of Albany, who helped land Coleman the spot as the executive director of the Georgia Democratic Party.

Over his career, he's served as a political appointee on numerous boards and study commissions, but it's his role as mayor of Albany that seems to have stuck in the minds of most residents here.

"I'd like to think we managed to get a lot accomplished in a very diverse community during a challenging time for the people here," Coleman said. "It was far from perfect, but we accomplished quite a bit. When I was mayor, the government worked for the people and did so rather efficiently and I'm proud of that."

Since leaving the mayor's office, Coleman has not held another elected office, but he's no less involved in policymaking.

He currently represents or does work for more than a dozen cities, counties and school boards throughout Southwest Georgia, stretching from Lakeland to Newton, with many points in between.

"I'd like to think that my biggest contribution now is as an adviser to the communities in the region that we represent," Coleman said. "I try to bring some order to what is some times a chaotic situation. At some point everyone is going to have a crisis and I like to think that my advice has helped our clients through those situations."

Coleman says that he knows an award like the one bestowed upon him Monday isn't one usually given to spring chickens, and is in observance of his years of service to GMA and to cities in general, but he's quick to point out that he's not quite ready to hang up his copy of the GMA handbook just yet.

"Let's just say that there weren't a lot of young people standing up there when they named this year's hall of fame class," Coleman said. "I know I'm in the twilight of my career, but I feel I still have a lot to share with the local governments in the region.

"Local government is a 'we' thing. It can't be done by a mayor or a manager or commission alone. It has to be done by a community."