Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell dead at age 94

A once-prominent Democratic elected official credited for modernizing and expanding the city of Atlanta, Georgia, has passed away.

Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, who governed the city from 1970 to 1974, died on Sunday of natural causes at the age of 94, according to CNN.

Massell, who was the city’s first and only Jewish mayor, has been praised for his work to expand minority representation in Atlanta’s government as well as for the creation of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, better known as MARTA, that connected the sprawling city’s neighborhoods and helped fuel its significant growth and economic prosperity.

Huge impact on economic future of Atlanta

Local media outlet WSB-TV reported that Massell was born and raised in Atlanta and became independently wealthy at a young age by following in his family’s footsteps as a real estate developer.

He eventually entered local politics in the Atlanta area by running for city council in the small suburb where he personally owned property for himself and his wife, eventually rising to the top of the council before launching a bid to be mayor in 1969.

With the overwhelming support of black voters, who he repaid with key appointments and encouragement to run for other positions, he won that election but ultimately only served one term — and ended up being that last non-black mayor of the city.

As mayor, Massell oversaw the creation of MARTA and the connection of the city’s geographically dispersed neighborhoods by way of bus routes and rail lines, which sparked an economic boom in terms of retail and tourism and helped the city become what it is today.

Following his time as an elected official, Massell formed the Buckhead Coalition which did much the same thing in terms of economic prosperity for that particular section of Atlanta.

Messages of condolences and mourning

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Mayor and my friend Sam Massell. Sam’s impact on our city was immeasurable,” current Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens (D) said in a statement. “His time as Mayor made history in so many ways. He was Atlanta’s first and only Jewish Mayor, he laid the groundwork for MARTA — which connected neighborhoods and residents across our city — and he paved the way for better representation of women and minority participation in City government.”

Gov. Brian Kemp (R) tweeted that he and his family “join the Massell family & all Atlanta in mourning the passing of Mayor Sam Massell. As we remember his lasting impact & his dedicated service, we ask that our fellow Georgians also keep his family in their hearts & prayers.”

Even the MARTA system for which Massell is credited issued a release on the former mayor’s death, and said, “MARTA mourns the loss of Atlanta political and civic giant and former board member Sam Massell. MARTA would not exist but for the dedication and persistence of Massell, who convinced the Georgia Legislature, and later voters, to approve the local option sales tax that continues to fund MARTA to this day.”

The city of Atlanta likely wouldn’t be what it is today if not for the vision and work of Massell, and his impact on the future of that southern city can’t be understated. He will be missed by those who supported him as well as those who benefited from his accomplishments.

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