Sam H. Massell, Jr. was elected yesterday as the first Jewish Mayor of this southern city. The 41-year-old incumbent Vice Mayor, a Democrat, defeated Rodney Cook, 45, a moderate Republican, in a race that was marked by charges of anti-Semitism. A major factor in Mr. Massell’s successful campaign, political observers said, was the heavy vote given him by the city’s Negro population. Mr. Massell’s Vice Mayor will be Maynard Jackson, a Negro.
Mr. Massell accused former Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. and other members of the city’s power structure of anti-Semitism following Mayor Allen’s televised appeal to him last Sunday to withdraw following charges that he had used a city policeman to help collect campaign donations.
Mr. Massell rejected the accusation and said that Mayor Allen, Mr. Cook and other business leaders had conspired against him because of his religion. Mr. Cook, a former state legislator and city alderman, denied the charge and claimed that Mr. Massell himself had injected anti-Semitism into the campaign.
It appeared that Mayor Allen’s charge that Mr. Massell had used a police vice squad captain to help Mr. Massell’s brother solicit campaign funds from nightclub owners had swung many sympathy votes to the new Mayor-elect. Mr. Massell will take office in January.
Mr. Massell, a realtor, has been extremely active in civic affairs. He has been a member of the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith and its Anti-Defamation League, holding offices in those organizations locally. He is also a member of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation. Mr. Massell attended the University of Georgia where he held membership in a Jewish fraternity. He married a non-Jewish woman who converted to Judaism. They have three children who are being raised as Jews.
The fact that Mr. Massell is Jewish had less to do, pro or con, with his election than his “distinguished record” as vice-mayor and community leader, according to Adolph Rosenberg, editor and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish weekly, “The Southern Israelite.”
Mr. Massell worked energetically in the city’s pursuit of improved human relations. He led inter faith and intergroup efforts. In his campaign he stressed the achievements of a community whose human relations were based upon “living, practicing, and believing.”
A majority of the city’s Jews supported Mr. Massell’s candidacy. But some voted for his opponent, suggesting that the vote was not entirely along religious lines. Mr. Massell’s uncle, the late Samuel Massell, was a well-known philanthropist who supported Jewish and general causes. His father Sam is an Atlanta attorney.
Mr. Rosenberg said that many Atlantans did not know or care that Mr. Massell is Jewish. He recalled the notorious persecution of Leo Frank in Atlanta over 50 years ago and said that Atlantans showed by this election that they had “risen above racial and religious bigotry.” Mr. Massell was “judged on his record of eight years of good public service” and elected on that basis, Mr. Rosenberg said.
An element of anti-Semitism might have been present in the “subtle background of exclusive social clubs and the white power structure. “But no mass appeal to such prejudice was injected and all conceded that Mr. Massell’s opponent, Mr. Cook, was certainly no anti-Semite, Mr. Rosenberg said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.