Six years after nonlawyer Matthew Cardinale argued and won a lawsuit against the Atlanta City Council at the Georgia Supreme Court over transparency violations, the online publisher and City Hall gadfly has decided that it’s time to join the body he’s spent so many hours critiquing—and which has itself passed several pieces of legislation Cardinale helped draft.
Now he just has to get elected.
Last week Cardinale launched his campaign for the council seat left vacant by the Nov. 16 death of District 3 Council Member Ivory Young Jr.
Cardinale is so far the first announced candidate for the special election, scheduled for March 19.
“I I was getting tired of begging people to introduce legislation for me, so I finally decided to seek elected office myself,” said Cardinale, who went to law school after his Georgia high court victory. “I felt like I could use my legal training and experience drafting legislation to be a champion for the people.”
While he’s the only candidate now, “we expect there to be a lot of interest in this race.”
Cardinale, whose endeavors include running an affordable housing nonprofit, SmartALEC and who has crafted legislation adopted in Atlanta, Clarkston and other municipalities, finished his coursework for a law degree earlier this year.
But he has not sat for the bar exam and isn’t particularly inclined to do so, preferring to focus on policy.
“Frankly, most of our city council members don’t have the patience for for the minutiae of legislation,” said Cardinale. “If people really knew just how much the [Atlanta] Department of Law is really running our city, I think they’d be surprised. I’d say 80 to 90 percent of the legislation that passes the City Council comes from the Law Department or the administration.”
Cardinale claims to have drafted 13 pieces of legislation that have passed the council over the years, including one approved Monday requiring council committee chairs to call for public comment before voting on legislation rather than at the meetings’ end.
“I’ve written legislation on topics from affordable housing to government transparency to due process for small businesses, but affordable housing has always been by No. 1 priority,” Cardinale said.
“I like writing good legislation and staying true to my progressive roots,” added Cardinale, who is the publisher of the Atlanta Progressive News website.
Cardinale already was a familiar figure at council meetings when he sued it in 2010, claiming that it violated the state open meetings law by failing to record the names and votes of council members who voted on legislation during a council retreat.
A Fulton County Superior Court judge dismissed the case, and the Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal.
But in 2012, a 4-to-3 majority of the state’s justices agreed with Cardinale, who argued the case himself. The ruling was hailed by former Attorney General Sam Olens, whose office had provided an officially neutral amicus brief, as “a strong precedent that government should err on the side of openness.”
His efforts earned him a full legal scholarship to Gonzaga University School of Law In Spokane, Washington.
More recently, Cardinale fought a short but document-heavy court battle with the rent-to-own housing company that sold him his house over claims that it failed to make promised repairs.
Once again, Cardinale represented himself, squaring off against a team of Troutman Sanders lawyers. The case settled the day before they were to appear in court for a hearing on several motions.