“You and I may as well face the fact that our people now demand of us a right-about-face in the conduct of this government, and will stand for no petty strife or selfish political manipulation. I take office with a feeling of humble gratefulness to the people of Atlanta [and] without the slightest thought of political favoritism or ill will toward a single member of the great human family of Atlanta. I ask of you and each department head and every employee only the efficient and honest performance of their duties. The problems we face are not insurmountable. As long as we are not under an impossible bonded indebtedness and the real resources of our great and growing city are still intact, and there is a clear majority of honest, law abiding and patriotic citizens who will support the advocates of good government, these problems can and will be solved.”
Editor's Note: In January 1937, William Hartsfield began his first term of many as the mayor of Atlanta. When Hartsfield took office, Atlanta was in the midst of the Great Depression and the city was on the brink of bankruptcy. Hartsfield began to address this financial crisis before he officially took office. In December 1936, the city government did not have the funds to pay all of the city’s employees. Hartsfield convinced Atlanta’s business leaders, including Robert Woodruff, the president of Coca-Cola, to provide financial assistance. Woodruff and others gave the city government the full amount needed to pay every employee on the December 1936 city payroll.
When Hartsfield officially took office the following month, his first order of business was to address the city’s financial crisis. The quote above comes from Hartsfield’s January 1937 inaugural address in which he described the problems facing the city and his resolution as mayor to overcome these challenges. Hartsfield’s first priority as mayor was to urge the city legislature to adopt a model budget system. The new system prohibited the budget from surpassing more than 99% of the funds received in the previous year. This system allowed the city government to have leftover money each year to help pay off its debt.
By 1938, Atlanta was well on its way to recovering from the effects of the Great Depression. After addressing the city’s financial troubles, Hartsfield could focus on other priorities as mayor including eliminating corruption in the city’s police department and developing Atlanta as a tourist center. Throughout his first term, Hartsfield promoted initiatives to beautify the inner city and to expand the city limits.