Who runs Columbus?
Is it our elected mayor?
Is it the CEO at Aflac … or TSYS … or Synovus?
Is it the City Manager or a judge in a black robe?
Is it a secret panel of unnamed leaders that meets behind closed doors?
Asking who truly runs our city has always been a provocative question — one that provokes an endless stream of opinions depending on who is making the list.
Years ago, Nolan Walters — a former reporter at the Ledger-Enquirer worked for months to come up with an educated list. His findings were as accurate as any such list can be. His methodology was interesting. He wanted to crack through the usual suspects.
Walters wanted to do more than publish a list of elected officials and wealthy business leaders. He wanted to study power, to go behind the scenes and see how the powerful deal with the powerful.
The series was “Profiles in Power.”
Published in January of 1979 it included 21 articles. Newspaper readers were intrigued by the 20,000 words that Walters produced. He compared influential boards, public and private. He looked at the membership of historically powerful boards and commissions, including the school board, the airport commission, the development authority, the water board and the hospital authority. He obtained tax records and financial reports from various foundations. He shed light on a bunch of fellows who enjoyed fried catfish and hushpuppies — that longtime group known as “The Fish House Gang.”
Walters mailed out 100 letters to people he considered powerful to see which names they would suggest. Amazingly, he got back more than 70 postcards. At the core of it all was old-fashioned reporting. The boxes of notes and information he gathered have never been duplicated here in Columbus. His work was impressive.
His series went beyond the personalities. “The profiles were not simply personality pieces,” he wrote in 1979. “They were written to examine the social and financial substructure of Columbus.”
Here is Nolan Walters’ Top 10:
- Jim Blanchard
- Bill Turner
- John B. Amos
- Abbott Turner
- Gunby Jordan
- Bill Feighner
- Mayor Harry Jackson
- Judge John Henry Land
- Harry Kamensky
- George C. Woodruff
Blanchard and Bill Turner finished in a virtual tie for first and Amos was only a step behind. D.A. Turner, the father of Bill, also received strong support. The final six were important names but were not as dominant as the first four..
The influence of CB&T was evident. Likewise the Bradley Company. The only elected official on the list was Jackson — though people may not have mentioned him because of the office he held. He had been prominent in business and prior to serving as mayor served a long stint in the Georgia State Senate. He even ran for governor.
Land was the most unique name on the list. His power as a sitting judge can’t be explained to the younger generation. At one time he ruled the local Democratic Party and anyone wanting to run for office made a courtesy call on the man known as “The Hanging Judge.”
Kamensky was the Father of Uptown. By saving the Rankin Square area around the Government Center and the Springer Theater, he preserved a part of town whose importance can’t be measured.
Woodruff was part of an old family with traditional ties that went back to the early days of Columbus. His company was a major player in real estate development and Woodruff himself helped bring Pratt-Whitney to Columbus.
The passage of time has dramatically impacted this 37-year-old list. Only Blanchard and Bill Turner survive — and in many ways they have passed the baton of influence to others. Newcomers will not recognize many of the people on this list and won’t know why they were important.
Who would be on today’s Top 10?
How many women would be on today’s list?
What about African Americans?
Would the list include men or women under the age of 40?
Would elected officials be better represented now?
These are questions worth asking and we’re going to be asking them from time to time. For openers, who do you think runs Columbus? We’ll be exploring this question from time to time. So send me your Top 10 at firstname.lastname@example.org