22 Aug 2014
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Lee Recalls Byrne's Political Past

The Cobb Commission Chairman is denouncing his predecessor's anti-gay vote in the early 1990s.

Lee Recalls Byrne's Political Past

Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee won't debate his Aug. 21 Republican runoff opponent in his bid to keep his job. 

But Lee is spending the final days before his head-to-head electoral clash with Bill Byrne attacking him in other ways. 

After Byrne last week, Lee has elected to step back in time, reminding voters of an anti-gay resolution the Cobb Commission passed in 1993 that cost the county an Atlanta Olympics volleyball venue at the Cobb Galleria Centre. 

Byrne, who was chairman from 1992-2002, , which was a general condemnation of "the gay lifestyle." 

"The Olympics pulled volleyball out of Cobb County -- and all that economic impact and all the positive things that could have been happening to tourism -- and made Cobb the laughing stock of the world," Lee said in an interview published Wednesday in The Marietta Daily Journal.

Among the notable critics of the resolution was 1988 U.S. Olympic diving gold medalist Greg Louganis, who in 1994 had just revealed his homosexuality and urged Atlanta Olympics officials to boycott Cobb. 

Byrne responded that he didn't propose the resolution -- that was the work of then-East Cobb Commissioner Gordon Wysong -- and that the controversy was personally painful because his gay daughter was an outspoken opponent of the measure. 

He later said he favored a revote to repeal the resolution, but only one other commissioner would go along with it. 

While the passage of the resolution revealed the depths of Cobb's cultural conservatism, it inspired others into public and political action.

"If the resolution had said Jews or Hispanics, the community would have been up in arms long ago," said Rabbi Steven Lebow of East Cobb's  in a 1994 interview with The Baltmore Sun.

Lebow helped organize a human rights rally on the Marietta Square in response to the resolution. Last October, he wrote in East Cobb Patch that a same-sex wedding.

Byrne also told the MDJ in today's editions that if he had a second chance on the matter, "I would have personally gotten my revolver and shot Gordon Wysong between the eyes."

It's that kind of candor -- and humor -- that has endeared Byrne to his supporters and no doubt attracted media attention. But even the MDJ, with its conservative editorial board, publicly endorsed Lee on Wednesday, despite what it described as the incumbent's often shaky hold in his two years on the job.

The newspaper took a dim view of Byrne's East Cobb cityhood proposal, saying it would cost residents in that part of the county more in taxes (East Cobb Patch columnist Tim Langley t on Sunday.)

But the MDJ, in calling Byrne "unquestionably the most controversial public official ever elected to local Cobb office in modern times," sensed that there's "little desire on the part of most voters to roll back the clock two decades." 

The MDJ had wanted a debate on Tuesday but Lee declined; an East Cobb citizens' group scheduled a forum for Wednesday at but only Byrne committed to attend. 

through Friday at various locations in Cobb. 

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