In his fifteen years as a legislator in the Georgia General Assembly, Sidney J. Marcus was a leading spokesman on urban and progressive issues and helped pass legislation that greatly benefited the city of Atlanta.
Marcus was born on February 5, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois, to Dora and Morris Marcus. His family moved to Atlanta when he was ten years old, and Marcus went on to graduate from Boys High School. He earned a business degree from the University of Georgia and a law degree from Emory University. He married Charlotte Glyck, and they had three children, Robyn, Bradley, and Beth.
Marcus was employed in a family-owned business, E & M Construction Company, when he was first elected as a Democrat to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1968 from a district in the Buckhead community of Atlanta. He subsequently was reelected to seven more terms in the legislature.
Although he was an urban, Jewish liberal in a house largely dominated by rural white conservatives, Marcus cultivated a political alliance with Speaker Tom Murphy and other house leaders that enabled him to get many of his bills passed. He was one of the founders of the Urban Caucus, a group of house members who supported the passage of bills on behalf of Atlanta and other cities. Marcus also worked for the passage of bills to help the sick and the elderly, such as sponsoring legislation in 1972 that created the Council on Maternal and Infant Health.
Marcus served on the powerful Rules Committee and Ways and Means Committee but exerted his strongest influence as chairman of the Health and Ecology Committee, where he controlled the passage of legislation affecting hospitals and medical care. For several years he was also the chairman of the Fulton County house delegation, where he worked at the difficult political task of reconciling the often-conflicting wishes of Black and white lawmakers.
Marcus was at the forefront on issues important to Atlanta and its low-income residents, including financial support for Grady Memorial Hospital, the MARTA transit system, and the World Congress Center, and the passage of the hotel-motel tax. He was a key player in the successful effort to stop the state’s plans to build a major highway from Atlanta to Stone Mountain that would have destroyed several intown neighborhoods (the corridor instead became the location for the less-intrusive Presidential Parkway). He was also a leader in Atlanta’s Jewish community.
In 1981 Marcus ran for mayor of Atlanta against civil rights leader and former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young, hoping to capitalize on the support he had built up in the Black community because of his stands on liberal issues. The campaign turned into a divisive racial battle when Maynard Jackson, the first African American mayor of Atlanta and a Young supporter, derided Marcus’s Black supporters as “shuffling and grinning Negroes.” Young defeated Marcus in an election in which Marcus received the bulk of the white votes and Young drew a majority of the Black votes. In spite of the bitter racial overtones injected into the campaign, Marcus, who was still a member of the house, continued to work for the passage of legislation requested by city officials.
On October 27, 1983, two years after he lost the mayor’s race, Marcus died from cancer at the age of fifty-five. The auditorium at the World Congress Center in Atlanta was named after Marcus in 1985. “Sidney was the kind of fellow who had the unique ability to bring people together… and cause things to happen,” Governor Joe Frank Harris said. Sidney Marcus Boulevard, a major street in the Buckhead area of his old house district, was also named in recognition of Marcus’s contributions to the city.