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Lomax of the county commission disagreed too. "Giving the venue to Augusta would be an embarrassment to Atlanta," he told SI's Anita Verschoth. "It would ignore everything we have achieved here." Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the IOC, finally laid the whole ugly matter to rest in January when he said golf would not be a part of the '96 Games.
Another storm has gathered as Atlanta activists for a variety of causes—labor unions, the homeless, civil liberties, neighborhood protection—have zeroed in on the social policies of ACOG by organizing the Atlanta Olympic Conscience Coalition. Just before Christmas almost 100 coalition demonstrators went to ACOG headquarters and crammed into Payne's office. As it turned out, Payne was out of town, so the dissenters sang Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around and then met for more than an hour with Frazier and Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and now cochairman of ACOG. Anita Beaty, director of the Task Force for the Homeless and a cochair of the coalition, was optimistic afterward. "They agreed to meet [with us] regularly," she said, "and we have faith they will do that."
The Reverend Timothy McDonald, former executive director of Concerned Black Clergy and another coalition co-chairman, is more militant. "These people are selling an Atlanta that is a myth," he says. "This is the fourth-poorest city in America. Atlanta has a history of displacing poor people when it builds major structures. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the Georgia Dome, the Civic Center, World Congress Center—all were built in poor black neighborhoods. In the past, developers did not use neighborhood people to do the ^B work. There were even illegal aliens used. That isn't fair. The Olympic people gave no guarantee on what level they will use local union labor. They want to build for the cheapest dollar. There is no way the community will allow it."
One target of the dissenters could be the $207 million Olympic Stadium, which is to be built in Summerhill, a historic black neighborhood. Groundbreaking for the stadium isn't scheduled until late April or early May, but McDonald promises, "That day they break ground, we will have a tent city there, and we will not go away. We'll take every chance we get to embarrass [the Olympic organizers]. We are unified as never before. The churches are part of it, labor is part of it, the homeless are part of it. Any intelligent person who looks at this coalition and doesn't want to sit down and talk is crazy."
ACOG is officially sympathetic to what the coalition stands for, but there is no warm embrace from Payne for McDonald. "I will not honor him by mentioning his name," says Payne. "There are groups who want to use the Olympic Games' singularity to advance their own special interests, and while many of these interests are worthwhile from a social sense, I think it is wrong that they would seek to disrupt the most important moment in this community."
Frazier, who speaks more like a professor of semantics than a banker, says, more gently, "We don't wish confrontation. Our negotiations have been anything but hostile to labor unions. We are going into contract for services, and the unions will participate. Some articulation of our aims and goals has been miscast as antilabor, antipoor. We want to be humane and thoughtful. We do give a damn, we do care. But homelessness and vagrancy and crime are not something we can solve. We didn't initiate these things, and we can't take them away.
"The Olympics were attractive to Barcelona because they fit well within a 10-year development plan. There was no such utilitarian notion about the Olympics' coming to Atlanta. This was a grassroots crusade, from the heart, from the soul of Billy Payne. We wish to bring these Games to our city with no thought of political requirements, obligations or expectations. We are doing this for the sake of doing it; we are doing this because it is the right thing to do."
Despite the pressure of such cosmic issues—social justice, high finance, potential racism, etc.—the question about the 1996 Games that is uppermost in the minds of most people is far less lofty: What the hell izit with Whatizit? The blue blob mascot has mystified and amused the world since it was introduced to guffaws at the end of the Barcelona Games. Samaranch likes it, comparing it favorably to the crude dog that was Barcelona's mascot: "I think it is the mascot, after Cobi, who gets the most press coverage—80 percent negative, 20 percent positive."
Among the negative critics is Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, who calls Whatizit "a bad marriage of the Pills-bury Doughboy and the ugliest California Raisin." Asked about the maligned mascot, Payne grins rather grimly and k says, "We are going to get the last laugh with Whatizit, I guarantee you." He will say no more.
Even as these contentious days tick past, the fact is that the Atlanta Olympics will be held and they will most likely be a success. Too many things are too right in Atlanta—venues in place, local government lending support, a citizenry that loves the idea of holding the Games, a city where even the critics are really boosters in disguise. McDonald says, "We're going to have the best Olympics there ever were. It will be the best not because of the Games but because of a community coming together." And Lo-max says, "In 1996 all this agony will result in an ecstasy comparable to Barcelona's."