Smyrna’s 1st black councilmember beat out Sarah Palin for Miss Alaska


Maryline Blackburn is your standard politician these days: She’s a country-music-singing, non-profit-owning Miss Alaska 1984.

And as of Tuesday night, she’s set to become Smyrna’s first black council member.

Blackburn ran to fill the seat left by Teri Anulewicz, who resigned in September to fill the spot left by Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Evans. Blackburn beat healthcare lobbyist Travis Lindley by 72 votes in a race that drew 950 votes.

Blackburn told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday that she didn’t follow the results at all as they came in — she didn’t want to hear a number until it was final.

She was in her campaign office when it happened.


MORE: Results of key local races in metro Atlanta


“I heard somebody scream ‘She won!’ and it was like a big chill, electric shock went through my body,” Blackburn said.

Raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, she went on to compete in and win the beauty pageant in 1984.

Her runner-up?

That’d be a young floutist from Wasilla named Sarah Heath — now Sarah Palin.

“My first impression was, ‘Oh my god, she’s gorgeous, she’ll probably be the one who wins,’ ” Blackburn recalled to The AJC in 2008 when Palin became the vice-presidential nominee.


PHOTOS: Blackburn in 1984 beauty contest with Palin


Her second impression was more thorough: “She had this look about her, this look in her eyes that tells you she’s calculating, figuring out ‘How am I going to win this competition,’ ” said Blackburn, who noted she planned to vote for Barack Obama. “There was a determination there.”

Blackburn competed in Miss America the next year.

As a 31-year-old in 1997, Blackburn told The AJC she wanted to make the transition from singing classical music to country.

“I can use my training to write music and to help me sing,” she said at the time. “Being in pageants helped me learn to take rejection and to realize that if someone says that you’re not good for this, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It’s just means it’s the wrong time.”

She went on to record several albums.

Blackburn said she started her non-profit “Divas With a Cause” in 2011. It operates as a way for female singers to come together and raise awareness about a variety of topics.

A year before that, she tried her hand at politics for the first time. She unsuccessfully ran for the state House of Representatives’ District 34 seat.


READ: Smyrna’s first female mayor gave city water, paved roads 70 years ago


She said she ran this year to be a part of the change in her long-time home of Smyrna.

Blackburn said she knew coming in that she’d make history as the council’s first black member if elected, but it wasn’t why she ran.

In 2010, the city’s population was about a third black, according to U.S. Census data.

Jimmy Dickens became Kennesaw’s first black council member in 2015. The barber has led the fight to remove the Confederate flag that flies over downtown.

“I want to be able to bring a fresh voice to the community,” she said. Smyrna is a growing city, it’s vibrant, it’s young and active with families.”


READ: Will election of Gwinnett’s first minority mayors start a trend?


And there’s one big, recent growth when it comes to Smyrna: The Braves’ new SunTrust Park.

She said she’s not a baseball fan, but she knows one thing.

“It’s the Atlanta Braves. I’ve been here 30 years and that’s where it’s always been. And why don’t we keep it there?” she said, noting that she isn’t aware of all the intricacies that got the stadium to Cobb from Atlanta.

Blackburn said the city will have to deal with traffic and transit because of the ballpark.


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“That definitely is an issue not just for Smyrna but Cobb County. It’s one of those things where we have to work with the county to make sure we can handle that infrastructure for it,” she said.

In addition to transit, she said she wants to focus on maintaining quality schools in the area.

She may be used to sharing stages with Bob Hope and Celine Dion, but she’s new to being a politician.

“I don’t have any agenda, but I’m just a concerned citizen who wants to make sure our city is being managed and moving in the direction to continue to prosper,” she said.

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