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ATLANTA — When he was first elected in 1993, William C. Campbell looked every bit the new black leader, polished in stylish suits, beguiling with a razor-sharp mind, and casting himself as an updated version of trailblazing mayors Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young.
Now, Campbell, 52, stands alone — in the worst possible way. He is the city’s first mayor in recent memory to become embroiled in a major federal racketeering trial, accused in a 48-page indictment of running City Hall like a criminal enterprise, fixing contracts in exchange for nearly $200,000 and evading taxes.
Campbell is fighting back, vehemently proclaiming his innocence. He has reached out to African Americans with a strong appeal to help him fight white prosecutors who, he says, are trying yet again to bring down a strong black man.
It is a charge that often resonates with African Americans who point to figures such as former D.C. mayor Marion Barry, former senator Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and former agriculture secretary Mike Espy, to name only a few, as people who have been caught in federal dragnets. In Campbell’s case, the suspicion of a kind of white conspiracy is bolstered by the sense that much of the case against him is built on circumstantial evidence. “This trial is not based on a great deal of factual information,” said Michael Langford, the director of community affairs under Campbell. “There are no credible witnesses here. A lot of this is based on the mayor’s strong stand on affirmative action. This is a result of his … saying there would be minority participation in contracting.”
Defense attorneys may be hoping that such an appeal to racial solidarity will gain Campbell sympathy from some of the seven black jurors on the 12-member jury.
Meanwhile, the city’s infrastructure, particularly its aging sewers, “literally crumbled underground,” Boone said. Campbell dismissed skilled political aides who tried to resolve the problem, saying he trusted only loyalists “who would take a bullet” for him. The replacements later confessed to taking bribes.
The trial is a much tougher test. Vying to prove Campbell’s guilt, prosecutors tracked his bank withdrawals before and after a businessman accused of passing him bribes was jailed in 2000 for filing false income tax returns.
Before that year, Campbell made almost no withdrawals over four years, even as he gambled extensively and took vacations around the world. After the businessman, Fred B. Prewitt, was imprisoned, the withdrawals shot up.
Dewey Clark, a former mayoral aide, explained how Campbell managed. Clark said in testimony that he saw Prewitt slip the mayor a roll of bank notes big enough to “choke a goat.”
Clark said he parted with the mayor over another bribe. It came from a strip-club owner who needed a liquor license. When the mayor failed to deliver, Clark allegedly confronted his boss, shouting, “You took that boy’s money.”
Campbell’s secretary, Serena Skaggs, said she overheard the conversation and recalled the mayor’s icy reply: “Technically, I didn’t. You did.”
A string of confessions and convictions show that Campbell’s administration was awash in corruption. DeWayne Martin, the chief of staff, and Joseph Reid, the deputy chief operating officer, confessed to taking bribes and are cooperating with prosecutors.
Wilton Lawrence “Larry” Wallace, the chief operating officer, is serving a four-year prison sentence for bribery, and Herbert McCall, the commissioner of administrative services, went to jail for lying while under oath.
(Posted on February 23, 2006)