I suppose it’s possible that a last-minute late-day deal can be cobbled together between Lakeside and Tucker. A compromise map is supposedly out there. The public hasn’t actually seen it.
The bill faced fierce bipartisan opposition from proponents of the community of Tucker, as well as from DeKalb Democrats deeply concerned about the creeping municipalization of the county and the effect it would have had on the county’s tax base.
The source of Tucker’s victory? Identity. Tucker has one. Lakeside did not. I might argue today that Tucker’s identity may — after this fight — have a stronger unified sense of community than even the city of Atlanta.
I wish it weren’t so, about Atlanta. Strong culture is attractive. But we all remember the reaction to the laughable effort of Brand Atlanta a few years ago. “Every Day is an Opening Day” and “City Lights, Southern Nights?” The ATL theme song? Eight million dollars and they couldn’t find something to say about Atlanta that wouldn’t equally apply to Charlotte or Charleston?
Identity can’t be imposed. It’s an emergent property.
Real identity around Atlanta bubbles up from neighborhoods. We’re a collage – a gumbo, perhaps – of idiosyncratic communities, a direct result of the economic stratification and lousy transportation infrastructure here. There isn’t enough connection between us as a region for us to identify as a region. Morningside may as well be in a separate town from Buckhead, all demographic similarities aside. East Atlanta Village hipsters will ironically shank a hipster from Midtown or Castleberry Hill on general principle.
Community identity applies outside of Atlanta proper, too. Druid Hills is unincorporated DeKalb County, but we all know where it is and who’s likely to live there. The same went for Dunwoody and Sandy Springs before they incorporated.
Tucker knows who it is. Lakeside does not.
I watched Lakeside and Tucker present their incorporation plans to the legislature in January. Of the three competing proposals – Tucker, Lakeside and Briarcliff – only Tucker emphasized its 100-year-old history of civic organizations, community events and activities … because they’re the only ones who have them. Lakeside’s proponents seemed tone deaf, like the folks at Brand Atlanta who thought their sloganeering would seem recognizable to anyone actually living here.
Even the name is fake. “Lakeside is a working name,” the authors of the legislation wrote in frequently asked questions on the proposal website. “We need to know our final boundaries before we can get to the point of naming the city, and we have a great deal of work to do before we get to that point. The name ‘Lakeside’ was an attempt to avoid using names of places that might give the appearance that one area (Oak Grove, Northlake, Briarcliff Woods, Hawthorne, etc.) was more important than the other.”
Tucker doesn’t have this problem. Tucker knows who it is.
Still, the legislature seemed ready to permit a local referendum to create a city of Lakeside in the middle of DeKalb County, one that would have effectively destroyed Tucker by incorporating about half of territory Tucker partisans call their own. Tucker proponents say that Lakeside leaders expanded the footprint all the way to the edge of Tucker High School after learning that they didn’t have enough “yes” votes to win a referendum vote from inside the perimeter. This map was ostensibly changed at the last minute in a deal revealed to legislators moments before the hearing. The backroom machinations appear to have left some Republicans on the committee cold.
I assumed before the vote that Republican legislators believed they could win over Tucker residents in a referendum with stark an all-or-nothing negotiation – join Lakeside or no one gets to incorporate.
That would have been a fundamental mistake to make, borne of a misunderstanding of identity.
Lakeside attacks Tucker’s identity as a community. Identity is not an abstraction. It’s very personal. It’s a survival mechanism.
For most of the people pressing for a city of Lakeside, the issues at play are simply political abstractions around tax rates, the allocation of police resources and “local control,” whatever that means given how little connection people have to one another in the boundaries as drawn. Some people see a chance for personal reward – a mayor and city council seats and the attendant local contracting opportunities.
At the end of the day, Tucker’s war of survival would have turned on partisan politics versus identity politics. Boundaries for a city of Lakeside appeared to be drawn to increase the number of Republican voters. Virtually every city created in the latest wave of incorporations has been a majority-white, majority Republican enclave.
Tucker’s voting pattern and demographics tend to be more ecumenical, though Tucker’s got plenty of Republicans who loathe the Democrat-dominated county commission. But Tucker Republicans are Tucker’s Republicans. Even Elaine Boyer, a lonely Republican on the county commission, told Lakeside’s champion, State Sen. Fran Millar, to back off.
If what I’m hearing in conversations reflects the actual sentiment on the ground, Tuckerites have been on a war footing. They would in all likelihood have superior manpower to mount a very personal grassroots campaign, because more people in Tucker manifestly give a damn than do their opponents. Immense social pressure was coming to bear on people in Tucker to vote no – social pressure that Lakeside proponents won’t be able to match because they have less shared identity. And the Tucker partisans are likely to go door-to-door outside of Tucker, preaching the gospel of Tucker, converting unbelievers. They would have looked very sympathetic, since they looked like they’re getting railroaded.
The fight will add to the lore of Tucker. Lakeside didn’t have lore to add to. It doesn’t even have a real name.