Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Welcome to the 'horrible' 5th District, Mr. President


Dear President Trump:

Welcome, sir, to Georgia's "horrible, crime-infested" 5th Congressional District, or as we like to call it, "home."

I've never understood how you came to that conclusion about us, because it clearly wasn't based on facts, and in your first 100 days as president, we've all been quite impressed by the stress that you place on getting your facts exactly right.

The fact is, the 5th is a great place to live, work and raise a family. You mention crime, but the crime rate has fallen by more than half in the last 20 years. The economy is growing, property values are soaring in much of the district and construction cranes are everywhere. Some of our biggest problems are in handling the consequences of our success, as with the world-famous BeltLine project.

No, the benefits of that prosperity aren't being shared by everybody in the district, and that's certainly a challenge. But it's a challenge that is also shared by the entire country that you've been elected to lead, correct? We don't have coal miners or other easily mythologized workers for you to champion, and for that we're sorry. We did have a large steel mill downtown, but the former Atlantic Steel site has been converted to Atlantic Station, one of the most successful live-work-play developments in the country, and the source of far more jobs than the site previously supported.

"Atlanta resurgens," it rises again. That's what we do.

Some people say -- and again, we all know that you love to quote all the nice things that unidentified "some people" say about you -- some people say that your misconception of the 5th must be based on a rather simplistic chain of thought: Since we have elected a black congressman in John Lewis, then it must be a black district, and if it's a black district then it must be horrible and crime-infested.

If so, some people would say that's a pretty damn racist way to think about things.

We are also one of the top convention destination sites in the country, as you'll find when you come to speak at the state-built and state-operated World Congress Center. You'll be landing Air Force One at the city-built and city-run Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, and also one of the most efficient in the world, winning annual kudos from others in the airport-operation field. It has become the economic engine of the entire region.

We're home to Grady Hospital, a great public hospital that has fought successfully to stay true to its mission  while achieving financial stability, but frankly, we're worried that stability might be endangered by the health-care "reforms" proposed by you and your party. As home to Fortune 500 companies such as Coca Cola, Delta, UPS, Home Depot and NCR, we are a hotbed of international trade and logistics, facilitating the swift movement of goods across the globe, but the future of that business also seems to be in question.

With Georgia Tech, Emory University, Morehouse, Spelman and other centers of higher education, Atlanta and the 5th District are helping to teach tomorrow's leaders and also leading the way in high-tech and medical research. Those schools have drawn the smartest students from around the globe to Atlanta, many of whom decide to stay to build lives and companies here. We're a little worried that the pipeline of smart, motivated people is getting squeezed to a trickle, and that your proposed $5.8 billion cut in federal funding for medical research threatens not just jobs but the progress that local researchers are making in improving human health.

Speaking of research and human health, we're also home to the world-renowned Centers for Disease Control. The work they do is important, yet it too is threatened with significant spending cuts. For example, I'm sure that you remember the heroic work they performed in containing the deadly Ebola virus while putting their own lives on the line. I'm sure that you, like all Americans, wanted to welcome them with open arms and thank them for their courage, skill and sacrifice.

If anything deserves your adjective of "horrible" around here, it might be traffic, and that too is a consequence of success. Our highways are about maxed out, our surface streets are straining under the load and the collapse of a segment of I-85 has driven home the importance of having a wide range of transportation options. As major employers insist upon access to mass transit, and as competing metro regions invest heavily in transit, once-wary suburban Atlanta communities are becoming much more interested in joining a true region-wide system.

You've talked often of wanting a $1 trillion infrastructure package, although so far that talk hasn't translated into an actual proposal, let alone congressional action. If that ever does come together, we'd probably like to use our share to invest in our underdeveloped transit system. But again, I'm curious and a little worried: While you preach the importance of infrastructure investment, your proposed budget endangers $38 billion in current mass transit projects, and the 2016 Republican platform calls for ending all federal spending on mass transit.

Does mass transit fall outside your definition of infrastructure? And if so, why? All around the country, all over the world, economic growth is concentrating in cities, in urban areas much like the 5th District. Government isn't driving that growth -- it's happening because of millions of individual choices by people deciding that's where they want to live and work. That's the lifestyle they want; that's what makes business sense to business leaders.

It looks to be the future, the way that America is deciding on its own to make itself great again. It would be great to see our national leaders recognize and encourage that, rather than run it down.

 

 

 

 


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.