Mayor Kasim Reed says voters should “run away” from any candidate for Atlanta’s next mayor who wants to “blow the budget.”
Reed, speaking to the Atlanta Press Club on Friday in an annual gathering, said there is “an energy in City Hall to blow the budget. Anyone who succeeds me, who starts exploding the finances of the city, you need to run away from right now.”
Reed rebuffed a suggestion that he was taking a veiled swipe at Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, with whom he recently publicly sparred over debt the city owes Atlanta Public Schools in relation to the Atlanta Beltline project. Mitchell is widely believed to have 2017 mayoral aspirations.
Per a 2009 agreement, the city —- which oversees the taxing district that funds the Beltline —- must make annual payments to APS in exchange for using a portion of the school’s property tax revenue for the green space project. It’s currently behind on two payments, totaling $13.5 million. The issue has caused a growing rift between the city and APS in recent years as the school system has demanded payment.
Earlier this month, Mitchell proposed moving nearly $14 million from the city’s reserve funds as a gesture toward resolving the two-year impasse with APS over a contract dispute worth $162 million, contingent upon the parties settling on a new deal.
But Reed, who touts building the city’s reserves to more than $140 million since taking office, said Mitchell’s proposal would be harmful to the city’s bottom line. The mayor will soon ask voters to approve a bond referendum worth up to $250 million, and the health of the city’s reserves are among the financial measures that will determine the interest rates on the bonds.
The mayor said his comments on Friday weren’t directed toward Mitchell or anyone else.
“I’ve said what I wanted to say to him,” Reed said.
But while not referring to Mitchell directly, Reed continued that “there’s only one mayor at a time.”
“So to the extent that someone wants to act like a mayor, I’m going to remind them there’s already a mayor,” he said. “To the extent that folks try to do (my job), they are going to find that is unpleasant.”
Reed said he believes resolving the conflict with APS over the Beltline is important and that he’s met with business leaders to help craft a solution.
The mayor has repeatedly said the current contract, which was drafted before the worst of the Recession, is unsustainable and would harm the progress of the popular greenspace project.
Reed has taken heat from school district parent groups over refusing to make the payments during negotiations.
“If we can get to a fair deal, I’ll do a fair deal tomorrow,” he said. “But if folks want to be tough with me, that’s a losing proposition.”
During the hour-long event, Reed addressed a wide-range of topics from the deepening of the Savannah Port to a proposed infrastructure bond referendum to what he counts as wins in shoring up the city’s finances.
He also said though Atlanta used to view Charlotte as a key competitor, the city’s success makes it the “undisputed” leader of the Southeast.
“God bless Charlotte. They aren’t even close to us,” he said.
Asked whether he expects the next mayor to continue in a decades-long pattern of African-American leaders, Reed said race will no longer be a key factor. “The next election for the mayor of Atlanta will be driven by talent. The future of politics will be driven by performance.”
And given the high scrutiny on public office, he said, “you really can’t ‘BS’ people anymore.”
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