A Mayor and A Mensch

A Mayor and A Mensch

By using his own style and determination, Michael Bodker led the charge to formulate Johns Creek City hood by strategizing, debating, and straight talking.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Mayor Bodker reading to school children.
Mayor Bodker reading to school children.

Mike Bodker, 56, is the first and only mayor of Johns Creek in North Fulton County. With a population of 90,000, Johns Creek is Georgia’s 9th largest city. Bodker, an accountant by trade, gained experience running tech startups and an accounting software firm. He took inspiration from former Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos — who was also Jewish — for going after and succeeding in establishing cityhood for Sandy Springs, against formidable odds decades ago.

Bodker grew up in Atlanta, attended Congregation Beth Jacob, Lakeside High School and the University of Georgia. When Bodker was 5, the family relocated for his dad’s job, managing the Richway store in North Druid Hills. Now attending Chabad North Fulton, Bodker tapped Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz to do the opening invocation for his own inauguration and plans to have the rabbi do the same upon his formal exit. After four terms in office, Bodker will step aside for a new mayor at year’s end.

Bodker’s dogged success with the Johns Creek cityhood movement reads like an intricate spy novel — with twists, turns and pitfalls that he overcame using his yiddishe kop. Bodker recalled how Galambos took decades to get Sandy Springs established as its own city. He said, “For 28 years the legislature was controlled by Democrats with some crazy ‘one mile rule’ disallowing cityhood. When the legislature flipped to Republican, they allowed the movement to go forward in 2005. Eva’s argument rings true. Twenty-one million dollars of their tax revenue was being exported to South Fulton. The same with our taxes, as ‘unincorporated’ would be three or four times more [in taxes], getting next to nothing back [in services].”

Bodker serving lunch to school students.

Bodker approached Mark Burkhalter, who runs Burkhalter International in Johns Creek and the United Kingdom, who introduced him to the mayors of Roswell and Alpharetta. Bodker recalled, “Both of them kicked me out. It all became political, and they drew maps showing what part of Johns Creek they wanted annexed for themselves. I had UGA gather the data to show that Johns Creek on its own could be viable. And we became ‘the one that got away’ with them, trying to pick off our geography.”

Bodker had to face off against the formidable Roswell mayor, trial lawyer Jerry Wood, who was known for his debating skills. Bodker said, “I debated him at every church and school, like David and Goliath. Although I’m a Republican, I took advice from Bill Clinton, who said to never answer a question directly. ‘Pivot and set your own agenda.’ So I wrote out my own five themes for the next debate at Mt Pisgah Church. Wood poked at me, ‘When are you going to actually answer a question?’ The people understood what they needed to know, and I won their support.”

In 2006, a rousing 80% voted with Bodker. The following week, he was heading to Florida for a family vacation when he got the call, “Aren’t you going to run for mayor after all your hard work? You have until Monday to qualify.” His brother applied for him in absentia, and he made the news as the first mayor of Johns Creek. A single Bodker, who is now co-parenting three children — 19-year-old twins, now at KSU, and a 5-year-old — said, “I’ve had enough after four terms. Sadly, politics is negative and toxic these days.”

Given this background, we asked Bodker for his thoughts on the hot topic of Buckhead cityhood.

Jaffe: What do you think about Buckhead’s cityhood movement?

Bodker: “It would decimate the city of Atlanta to separate. That being said, crime is the main issue. I, myself, do not feel safe in parts of Buckhead and the city of Atlanta. I think the mayoral race will determine how the crime issue is approached.”

Jaffe: How would you outline reversing crime?

Bodker: “It first takes recognition that there is a problem, then commitment to solving it, and enough well-skilled police officers. It’s now very difficult to hire ‘the best and brightest.’ There’s been too much talk and not enough action.”

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