Demetrios John "Mitch" Skandalakis is a former American Republican politician from Georgia who rose quickly to national prominence in the early 1990s. He upset an established candidate to become chairman of a county board of commissioners, and in 1998 ran for lieutenant-governor, an election he lost in a landslide. Afterward, he became subjected to a federal corruption investigation, spent six months in jail for allegedly lying to an FBI agent, and was disbarred, but was later reinstated, as an attorney.
Skandalakis is the son of a Greek immigrant. His father became a surgeon who taught at Emory University, and his two siblings followed in their father's footsteps. Mitch Skandalakis graduated from Emory University, where he founded a chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. He graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1982 and joined the law firm of conservative Georgia congressman Pat Swindall.
He ran for a state Senate seat in 1988 but lost, and in 1991 began to be active in Fulton County, Georgia's most populous county, as an anti-tax activist, complaining about property taxes; in 1992 he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. He attracted national attention when he upset Martin Luther King III in a 1993 special election for Chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.
Skandalakis was re-elected to a full term in 1994, running as a moderate Republican and openly courting gay voters. He made headlines again in 1995, when he proposed that all amateur athletes be required to disclose whether they had AIDS. As a commissioner, he was most notable for cutting property taxes, even while Atlanta was expanding its budget for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
1998 campaign for Lieutenant Governor
In 1998, he hired former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed as his campaign manager and ran for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia as a right wing conservative. While earlier he had "good relations with Atlanta's gay and lesbian community," he needed stronger Christian credentials to win the primary; hiring Reed was thought to provide those credentials. Skandalakis placed first among five candidates in the Republican primary, then defeated conservative State Senator Clint Day in a bitterly contested primary run-off. Skandalakis's campaign drew criticism for running "advertisements portraying one rival in racial stereotypes and another as a drug addict". The spots from the campaign were cited years later as examples of the "dirty tactics" of Ralph Reed:
In the autumn of 1998, Georgians were jolted from their armchairs by television ads run by a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor with the nicely onomatopoeic name of Mitch Skandalakis. One commercial played what political writer Josh Marshall later described as "the DW Griffith card," charging gross incompetence on the part of Atlanta's predominantly black political leadership. Another featured an actor who resembled Skandalakis's opponent, state senator Mark Taylor, shuffling down a hallway at a well-known psychiatric and drug treatment facility near Atlanta. The ads were arresting, but they backfired. Skandalakis got stomped by Taylor, while a surprisingly high turnout among African Americans helped produce a victory for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes and other Democrats running statewide.
Although successful with Reed's help in winning the Republican primary, Skandalakis's strategy of negative campaigning backfired in the general election. The ad that suggested that his opponent, Democratic candidate and State Senator Mark Taylor, had ongoing drug problems and was being treated in a rehabilitation center, solicited a legal response from Taylor—a $1 million lawsuit for libel. In the end, Skandalakis lost in a landslide in part because he had alienated the Atlanta vote and had made a habit out of insulting Atlanta's (African American) mayor Bill Campbell and other African American officials, "a classic example of racebaiting." These attacks "also offended many whites, who perceived them to be race baiting." He agreed to pay $50,000 to a charity to settle the lawsuit: "in hindsight, Skandalakis said, he regrets airing the ad." Later, Skandalakis's negative advertising was blamed for Republican losses, and he was viewed as "a drag on the [Republican] ticket."
Skandalakis, who had returned to county government after his 1998 defeat, became part of a federal investigation into corruption in April 2000, when the FBI was investigation payments made to another commissioner. A local businessman, George Greene, confessed to having bribed other officials as well, including Skandalakis and his chief of staff. Apparently, from September 1997, Skandalakis was paid $5000 a month, $75,000 in total. News of the investigation broke in the spring of 2000; by September Skandalakis had sold the family home in Alpharetta, while his family had moved to North Carolina. To an FBI agent Skandalakis denied having voted on matters relating to Green or his company, but he knew his statement was false and "had, in fact, voted in favor of a contract to install a video teleconferencing system on which Sable was a subcontractor." After a two and a half year investigation, he was sentenced in 2003 to six months in prison for lying to an FBI officer. Besides the prison time, Skandalakis was also ordered to pay a $100,000 fine and spend 100 hours in community service. As a result of his conviction, in a unanimous decision by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2005, he was disbarred from practicing law in the state.
Reinstatement as an attorney
The fitness board of the State Bar of Georgia recommended that Mr. Skandalakis be allowed to again be admitted as a Georgia attorney after he petitioned for reinstatement in March 2012. Subsequently, on May 6, 2013, the Georgia Supreme Court allowed reinstatement of Mr. Skandalakis subject to his again passing the bar examination, the court writing in its opinion that
The record shows that since his conviction Skandalakis has shown remorse and has strived to act with integrity and responsibility through his hard work, his devotion to family, and as a volunteer in his community.
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- Salzer, James (6 December 2009). "New speaker set to offer a different voice: Friends say Burkhalter will bring businesslike mentality to Gold Dome.". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. p. B1.
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