The Georgian Mafia

Jessica Romeo

The president of the United States has never led the nation alone.  He has always been surrounded by advisors, trusted friends who would help him, support him and counsel him.  Where Franklin Delano Roosevelt had the Brain Trust, Jimmy Carter had the Georgian Mafia.

When Carter was campaigning for president, he played up his position as a Washington outsider.  This appealed to the voters who, at this point, were sick of the political games at the capitol.  When he was elected, Carter brought with him a team of men who were also White House outsiders; this was a tight-knit group of native Georgians that the Washington media would label the “Georgian Mafia.”  It was a group comprised of men who had the full trust of Carter.  They were as close as brothers.

Carter believed that his status as an outsider and his platform of morality and honesty would bring a fresh perspective to the presidency.  The Georgian Mafia maintained that concept – these were all men who brought in new ideas, ideas that were uncorrupted by the politics and greed of Washington.  Despite their lack of political experience, all the men brought to their jobs intelligence, flippant humor, and hard work. It is not to say that these men just crawled out of a swamp from the backwoods.  They were all men with political experience.  One of the men, domestic policy advisor Stuart Eizenstat, worked as Lyndon Johnson’s speech writer before returning to his native Georgia.  These were not uneducated men, they simply lacked the typical, unscrupulous connections in Washington that Carter felt was making the government so inefficient.

Undoubtedly, the core of Carter’s inner circle was made up of Joseph Lester “Jody” Powell Jr., 33, and William Hamilton Jordan, 32.  These two gained a lot of press during Jimmy Carter’s time in the White House.  Due to their relative youth and disdain for popular convention, they were often looked down upon by the media.  In 1977, Time Magazine published an article titled “The President’s Boys,” in which they wrote “Jordan, the top White House aide, and Powell, the press secretary, dress as they please, ridicule pretense, joke incessantly, talk back to the boss, shun lunch at Sans Souci and rarely turn up at social functions.”  Despite their rejection of traditional decorum, these men had a deep connection with Carter, who trusted them completely, and maintained a strong, mutual loyalty.

    Jody Powell was one of the most powerful press secretaries in White House history.  In his Rolling Stone profile of Powell and Jordan, Joe Klein, it stated that Powell “was the All-American boy: the smartest, cleverest, best-looking, most popular kid in school.” The men met in 1969, and would form a close bond during these years.  Powell would later be known for his razor wit and strong allegiance to Carter.  Hamilton Jordan acted as Carter’s Chief of Staff.  Jordan managed Carter’s impressive campaign.  Klein summed up the two men’s roles as thus: “Each is a funnel to the president: Jody from the outside, the media; Hamilton from the inside, the staff,”     Other Georgians who held key positions included budget director Burt Lance, Attorney General Griffin Bell, communications director Gerald Rafshoon, appointments secretary Phil Wise, Congressional liaison Frank Moore, and White House counsel Robert Lipshutz.  Overall, Carter had formed around himself a group of men who were fiercely loyal to his presidency and his cause. Their lack of willingness to trade political favors and refusal to blend in with the more sophisticated social scene incited dissension between the administration and the rest Washington.

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