The future lives on Roswell Road.
From the Atlanta City limits past I-285 - Atlanta's "Perimeter"- and on farther into the North Fulton County suburbs, the thoroughfare's jumble of 21st century American capitalism offers lessons, contradictory and fractious and humming with energy. Old buildings have been knocked down, replaced by new apartment buildings, offices and shopping centers.
The road's Southern portion near the city of Atlanta was considered Jon Ossoff territory before Tuesday's Sixth District runoff election, which Republican Karen Handel won by a substantial margin. Polls showed a closer race, with some giving Ossoff the edge. The loss set off the Democratic Party's favorite preoccupation: recriminations and second-guessing after election defeats.
On the day after the election, Roswell Road buzzed along as if nothing had happened. The national media circus had left, the GOP had engaged in its vicious gloating, and the national Democrats had turned on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the national Democratic strategists who had blown nearly $30 million on another loss.
A crunch of new apartments, wine stores, restaurants and hip businesses has risen along Roswell Road south of the perimeter, catering to "millennial' workers. The city of Sandy Springs has augmented the growth with a new civic center and governmental headquarters.
Home of Mercedes-Benz
Just off Roswell, Mercedes-Benz is building its North American headquarters, contradicting Donald Trump's grumblings about the perfidy of German businesses with its corporate largess. The brand's luxury cars are prominent upon the streets of Sandy Springs and Atlanta's Buckhead, and the company is branding Arthur Blank's new stadium rising besides some of downtown Atlanta's poorest neighborhoods. Mercedes-Benz has joined Delta, Coca-Cola, UPS and Home Depot as corporate heavyweights in the disjointed metro area.
In the last days of the Sixth District race, Handel launched effective ads highlighting Ossoff's disastrous decision to not move into the district. A bunch of older residents, perhaps actors, who looked like retirees and long-term homeowners pointed to Ossoff's youth and lack of roots in the district, although he had grown up there. "He's Not One of Us" was the tagline.
The ads were aimed at the northern portions of the district, with long-established neighborhoods that have remained staunchly Republican since Jimmy Carter's administration. Handel's support among these communities was insurmountable. Years ago, she had represented these same areas on the Fulton County Commission. The older Republicans reliably vote, unlike the millennials, blacks and ethnic groups upon which the Democratic Party pins its hopes for eventually controlling the nation's future.
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
Old would-be hippies like me laughed at Handel's ads linking Ossoff to Pelosi and San Francisco, portrayed as the home of nutty radicals soft on terrorism and urban outsiders. A long-haired hippie wearing a headband looked like a stock character from Jack Webb's 1960s "Dragnet." While risible, the ads proved effective, especially in reaching younger congressional Democrats who want to oust Pelosi as the party's leader in the House.
The Pelosi strategy echoed that of Republican David Perdue, who linked Democrat Michelle Nunn to Harry Reid in winning Georgia's Senate race in 2014. The commercials even used the same language as Perdue, that Ossoff was "hand-picked" by Pelosi as Nunn was "hand-picked" by Reid, as if both were peaches.
A journey down Roswell Road
Roswell Road begins in Buckhead, splitting off from Atlanta's iconic Peachtree Road. After a jaunt past churches, restaurants and strip shopping centers in north Buckhead, the road enters Sandy Springs and an area in the midst of an urban revival. Just outside of Atlanta, a store of the embattled Kroger chain anchors a shopping center that includes a frame shop, Jimmy Johns sandwich place and a nail salon owned by Vietnamese immigrants. Farther out lie Kroger competitors Whole Foods, soon to join Amazon, and Trader Joe's.
Along the way, a small strip of Latino businesses has flourished for years, buoyed by a predominantly Mexican apartment complex. I've often enjoyed stopping on random afternoons to watch as a school bus delivers Latino students to their home. The solemn kids, dressed in colorful formal attire, walk in perfect order down the bus's steps before their Mamas greet them with enormous, smothering hugs.
In the last year, a trendy wine store has risen on Roswell, close to a McDonald's, a motel and long established strip shopping centers offering a range of services from laundry to banking. Another long-standing business is a sex shop which the county has not been able to run off.
The Ossoff-Handel race unveiled several conflicts: young vs. old, established vs. transitional, traditional economic models vs. the "gig" economy.
One Democratic post-mortem said the party should focus on jobs. Yet, that was one of Ossoff's main messages, although his exact economic plan remained vague. From his commercials, he wanted to support high-tech, digital entrepreneurs. Roswell Road supports many jobs, many of them of the low-paying retail and service model.
Off Roswell, Hammond Drive slashes east toward DeKalb County's Dunwoody and Brookhaven, like Sandy Springs recently formed cities. Dunwoody booms with high-paying corporate jobs in health care, communications and insurance.
After all of the pundits and reporters have moved on, the Handel win looks more the product of local political dynamics than those of national significance. If Ossoff had gone to Dunwoody or North Springs High rather than inner-city Atlanta's liberal/groovy Paideia School, would he have done better?