Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed: 'I feel pretty good about where we've come'
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is a rising star among Democrats.
Still in his early forties, he has taken the city by storm, with his ambitious roadmap, close ties to the White House and bipartisan approach.
Since his election in 2009, Reed, 44, is credited with bolstering the city’s financial position, balancing the budget, beefing up the police department and implementing sweeping pension reforms.
“I feel pretty good about where we’ve come,” said Reed in an interview with theGrio. “We’ve had four balanced budgets. Violent crime in the city is down 17 percent since I took office. We’ve hired more than 800 police officers.”
“When I got elected we had $7.4 million in reserves. Today we’ve more than $126 million in reserves. We’ve accomplished all of those things without raising property taxes in the city of Atlanta.”
As a result Reed, a former state lawmaker, is seen favorably not just among Democrats but also by conservative Republicans. They are impressed with his business acumen and working relationship with Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal on issues including transportation and economic development.
“Kasim Reed has really distinguished himself among his peers in terms of management,” said Dr. Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University. “He successfully renegotiated contracts with city workers and increased city reserves at a time when other cities were still feeling the impact of the recession.”
The mayor, who speaks with a slight Georgia twang, grew up in the Cascade community of Atlanta and speaking to him you can sense his genuine passion for the city. Reed, a Howard University-trained attorney, comes across as a politician genuinely committed to making choices he believes best serves Atlanta, even if it that means unpopular decisions.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the recent controversies surrounding the Falcons and Atlanta Braves sporting stadiums deals. Despite all the uproar, protests and distractions, Reed said he is solely focused on crunching the numbers.
He supported the deal to help built a new Falcons stadium because of the financial impact, he said. Atlanta’s hotel-motel tax will pay for the city’s $200 million contribution (17 percent of the stadium cost) towards the cost of the NFL stadium, he added.
On the other hand, the cost to keep the Braves in downtown Atlanta was too high.
“There is no revenue stream to support the Atlanta Braves. If I had tried to match what my neighbor put up (nearby Cobb County) it would have cost us between $150 and $250 million to keep the Atlanta Braves here. I would have had to put that on a credit card.”
Hot on the heels of his reelection to a second four-year term (Reed earned 84 percent of the vote and won every precinct in the city), Reed is bullish and uber-confident about his plans.
“My agenda for the second term really is to make sure that Atlanta is fiscally strong and continue to do the fundamentals well, which is what I think we’ve done over the last four years,” said Reed.
“During the first four years, I was working on a lot of hard issues because the future of the city was really at risk. Now that we have stabilized our city and put it on a path to success and to health I want to impact the look and feel of the city. I want to fix our roads, bridges, sidewalks and expand our green spaces.”
“I am focused on income and equality and making sure that ordinary people have the ability to afford to live in the city of Atlanta. What I want to do is make sure Atlanta remains affordable as a core value and essential part of our city’s character.”
In political circles the mayor, who is officially endorsed by President Barack Obama, is seen as an ambitious high-flyer with a bright future ahead. Media savvy and politically astute, Reed has become the face of the Democrats in the Peach State.
“I first met Kasim Reed when he knocked on my door and asked me to vote for him as state representative,” said Reed’s predecessor, Shirley Franklin. “He was a young man with great ambition and continues with that ambition for himself and ambition for the city and that’s exciting to watch.”
Mayor Reed spent just over a decade in the state legislature before succeeding two-term Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, for whom he was campaign manager.
“Kasim Reed already sees himself beyond Atlanta,” said Dr. Jason A. Johnson, a political expert, commentator and writer. “This summer he was already publicly telling supporters he wanted to bring Georgia home for Hillary in 2016. If he pulls that off he’ll likely leave the Peach State for greener pastures in Washington D.C.”
Although William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, a watchdog group, said he is unsure Reed can make that transition.
“I’ve often said I don’t think he has the temperament to be successful to run for higher office,” said Perry. “He’s someone who doesn’t tolerate disagreement.”
Still, talking to theGrio, Reed dampened expectations he would continue in public service after his mayoral tenure comes to an end.
“When I am done being mayor I would have been in public life for about 20 years, fortunately I’ll still have a little life left in 2017 when my term ends,” said Reed. “So I think more likely than not this will probably be the end of my public service, but I am going to stay engaged in the political arena.”
This will come as a surprise to political experts who have bet their money on Reed going for governor’s office or Congress further down the line. Still, four years is a long way off and a lot can happen in politics.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti