Originally created 12/31/01

Change comes to Georgia



Georgia news, like news everywhere, was dominated by one story in 2001: the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the reaction to them. Just a handful of Georgians died in the attacks, but the lives of everyone in the state were changed.

Thousands of Georgians lost their jobs as the attacks worsened the recession; tourists canceled travel plans to the state; military personnel went overseas; and government employees - from local police working long hours to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists investigating anthrax - fought terrorism at home.

Other 2001 Georgia news stories were partially overshadowed by the attacks, including the approval of a new state flag, a National Guard plane crash that killed 21 people near Unadilla, a long trial about criminal activity at an Atlanta strip club and two months of redistricting debate by Georgia lawmakers.

The Legislature was debating the maps when its members heard about the attacks on New York. Lawmakers stood and sang God Bless America on the House floor.

Among the Georgia-based troops sent overseas in the months after the attacks were 200 Army Rangers from Fort Benning who parachuted into Afghanistan on Oct. 19, the first reported entry of U.S. troops into the country.

The 75th Ranger Regiment returned in December, happy to be home but pausing to remember two members - Pfc. Kristofor T. Stonesifer, 28, and Spc. Jonn J. Edmunds, 20 - who were killed when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Pakistan.

"To see that the country has actually pulled together and is standing behind us, that's about all you can ask," Sgt. Edmund Sealey said.

Troops were also sent from other Georgia military installations. Those around the bases dealt with traffic jams and tighter security. The St. Marys airport stayed closed until December because of security concerns surrounding the nearby Naval Submarine Base at Kings Bay.

A security breach shut down a much larger airport, Hartsfield Atlanta International, for four hours Nov. 16 after a football fan rushing to catch his flight ran past a checkpoint. The breach canceled flights and created chaos at airports across the country on the Friday before Thanksgiving.

Although Georgia has no reports of anthrax in the mail, the state has felt the effects of bioterrorism in the country. The Atlanta-based CDC has been helping the FBI investigate anthrax letters and checking out hundreds of reports of potentially dangerous material.

The bioterrorism fears helped draw attention to the CDC's dilapidating facilities near Emory University, and Congress has approved $250 million for construction.

"In the wake of the terrorist attack and the anthrax scares, the entire nation has become very aware of how important the CDC is in keeping us healthy and safe," Sen. Zell Miller said.

Mr. Miller's legacy as governor was part of the state's biggest nonattacks story of the year. In 1993, Mr. Miller led a push to change the state flag, which was dominated by the Confederate battle emblem. He eventually gave up the fight, but Gov. Roy Barnes and Democratic leaders tried again in 2001.

Mr. Barnes and Democratic leaders surprised everyone by introducing a new state flag proposal in a committee meeting Jan. 24. Mr. Barnes pushed hard for the change, and a week later, workers raised the new flag above the Statehouse.

In the summer, Mr. Barnes called legislators back for two sessions to redraw lines for congressional and legislative districts. Democrats stayed together and dominated the session, drawing districts that are expected to increase their majority in the Legislature and help them cut into the Republican advantage in Georgia's congressional delegation.

Many legislators, including Democrats, said Mr. Barnes had meddled in the map-drawing process. Republicans said lawmakers will remember that when they return next year.

"I think that he's worn out his welcome with a lot of legislators, and probably a sizable number of voters once they figure out what's happened," said Sen. Bill Stephens, R-Canton.

When legislators return, it will be to a different state economic climate. After years of large surpluses, Mr. Barnes has warned state agencies to prepare for cuts to avoid a shortfall.

Georgia led the nation in the loss of jobs from November 2000 to November 2001, with 80,000 people added to the unemployment rolls.

Many of Georgia's largest employers had layoffs or job cuts in 2001, including Delta Air Lines, BellSouth and CNN. The hardest-hit sectors have been tourism, travel, textiles and high-tech companies around Atlanta.

The Atlanta tourism industry lost one spot this year when The Gold Club was turned over to the federal government. Owner Steven Kaplan agreed to turn the strip club over as part of a plea agreement in his racketeering trial.

The state's largest death toll of the year came March 3 when a National Guard plane crashed in a rainstorm near Unadilla, killing 21 people - 18 members of the Virginia Guard and three crew members from the Florida Guard.

An investigative board concluded that crew error caused the crash, but military officials argued that the accident had more to do with bad weather and equipment malfunctions.