ATLANTA (AP) — Sam Massell, who was Atlanta’s first Jewish mayor as well as the driving force behind the creation of the region’s public transit system, has died. Massell was 94 years old.
Massell’s wife, Sandra, told WXIA-TV that Massell died Sunday morning in his sleep. No cause of death was given. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens praised Massell in a statement that highlighted her role in promoting women and minority participation in city government, as well as her role in establishing the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. .
“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. His time as Mayor made history in so many ways,” said Dickens. The mayor said Massell was one of the “most spiritual people” he knew and that he understood the importance of working together and being inclusive. “Sam always said we could get more done through a conference call than through confrontation.
Massell was a real estate agent before serving on city council. Then, in 1969, when then-mayor Ivan Allen opted out of running, Massell decided to run for the job, according to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal. He served a term in which local media said he appointed the first woman to the city council and hired the first black man to head an Atlanta government department.
Massell’s wife said he viewed his legacy as a bridge between the white government in Atlanta and the black government in Atlanta.
MARTA officials noted Massell’s contributions in a statement Sunday, saying the regional transit system would not exist without him. He lobbied the legislature and voters to rally support for a sales tax to fund MARTA’s operations. He would travel by bus to various communities and then, using a blackboard, explain the sales tax to people.
“We are forever indebted to him. Our deepest condolences go out to his wife Sandra, children, extended family and countless friends,” the agency said.
After losing his re-election bid in 1973, Massell’s career took a different path when he began operating a travel service that took him to around 85-90 countries. Then, in 1988, he was encouraged to assume the presidency of the Buckhead Coalition, which was a group of businessmen encouraging growth in the neighborhood.
Massell’s funeral is scheduled for Wednesday, according to local media.
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