It was a routine question near the end of an Atlanta mayoral debate, but it elicited a passionate response.
After debate about transportation and education policy at a Leadership Atlanta forum, Democratic strategist Jeff Romig asked the candidates how they they feel now that every Atlanta Braves matchup is an “away game.”
The answers came in rapid fire. Most said they were deflated by the team’s move to a new mixed-use development in Cobb County. Some said it was a blessing in disguise.
Then former City Council President Cathy Woolard, sitting at the end of the table, spoke up: “They’re dead to me.”
The team’s decision to flee Atlanta for Cobb is one of the dividing lines in the November race to succeed a term-limited Kasim Reed. And the brief exchange at the Wednesday debate showed why.
Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, who led the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority after the Braves move, cast Georgia State University’s proposed overhaul of Turner Field as “probably the best thing that could have happened” to the site.
“I am not shedding any tears over the Braves leaving,” she said, citing the university’s plans to redevelop the area.
Others cast it as an epic failure. Fulton County Commission chair John Eaves said the team’s departure was a “hit to the historical, social legacy of this city in terms of civil rights.”
“The ball was dropped,” he added. “The Braves could have stayed.”
And Woolard said the Braves are among a string of civic institutions to bolt Atlanta for the burbs: The ballet and the opera, she reminded the crowd, have also relocated to Cobb.
“It was a tremendous loss,” she said, elaborating after the debate that she feels the team was “ignored by City Hall and left out of absolute frustration.”
“We need baseball in the city of Atlanta,” Woolard said. “I am hoping that we can play international exhibition games at the new GSU complex along with independent and high school age leagues. Imagine Japan and Dominican Republic playing right downtown. Let’s turn lemons into lemonade.”