Mar 13, 2022 - News

Sam Massell, progressive Atlanta mayor, has died

A photo of former Mayor Sam Massell sitting at a table with his hands against his chin
Photo: Ben Rollins for the Georgia State University Magazine

Sam Massell, the progressive former Atlanta mayor who helped sway voters to support creating MARTA and ushered in some of the city’s first Black and women leaders, died Sunday. He was 94.

Elected as the city’s first Jewish mayor in 1969 after serving as president of the board of alderman, the predecessor to the Atlanta City Council, the Atlanta native and real-estate executive oversaw the construction of key civic facilities like the Omni Coliseum and Woodruff Park.

  • Four years later, Massell lost re-election to Maynard Jackson, a young politician and attorney and grandson of civic titan John Wesley Dobbs in what became a bitter election battle that centered on race. Jackson became the city’s first Black mayor, and ended the all-white power structure at City Hall.

In recent years, Massell often said his greatest legacy was acting as a bridge during that peaceful transition of power.

In 1988, Massell became the founding president of the Buckhead Coalition, a high-powered business group. His official job obliged him to promote and advocate for the affluent swath of north Atlanta. Massell, however, was always a champion for the city at large.

  • He used his position and stature — Massell always returned a reporter’s phone calls and emails — to support expanding rapid transit and oppose the concept of Buckhead becoming its own city when first seriously proposed in 2008.

He’s survived by his wife Sandra Gordy-Massell, son Steve and daughters Cindy and Melanie, and three grandchildren. Arrangements for services are being prepared by the family and will be at the Temple at 1589 Peachtree St. at 3 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, the AJC reports.

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