If Kasim Reed runs for governor of Georgia in 2018, a hall filled with more than 600 business leaders here will be set down as the place that his campaign began.
Reed uttered not a single political word during an unprecedented, 30-minute address by an Atlanta mayor to the Savannah Economic Development Authority.
He didn’t have to. The Thursday event on the edge of the Savannah River was a celebration – if somewhat premature — of the Democrat’s crucial role in Georgia’s pursuit of hundreds of millions of federal dollars needed to deepen the Port of Savannah.
“We’re going to be just fine,” Reed assured the crowd.
An eventual, returned favor was implied. “If you want a friend, be a friend. I flew to Savannah today to tell you in no uncertain terms that you have a friend in me,” Reed said as he left the stage.
“He was awesome. He’s a great ambassador for the port,” said state Sen. Buddy Carter of Pooler, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The mayor of Atlanta, who has what many might consider a “gimme” race for re-election this year, long ago eschewed any talk that he’d be interested in next year’s race for U.S. Senate. But earlier this month, Reed declared himself out of the 2016 U.S. Senate race as well. He made his news in an interview with Martha Zoller, a prominent Republican, which was broadcast from Athens – not Atlanta.
Reed also promised he would complete his second term as mayor. He wouldn’t let President Barack Obama lure him into a D.C. job.
The math speaks for itself. Reed’s second term would end in 2017, a year before a (presumably) re-elected Nathan Deal would leave the Governor’s Mansion empty for its next tenant.
Reed declined to address his future in Savannah, but all signs point to the fact that, after three years in City Hall, the mayor has decided he prefers the executive side of governance to the legislative one.
No mayor of Atlanta has tried for the governor’s office since Andrew Young was trounced in a Democratic runoff in 1990 by Zell Miller. Demographics have improved for an African-American candidate from Atlanta over the last two decades, but huge hurdles remain.
In Savannah, Reed began to address those obstacles. Personal competency is the first, of course.
The mayor was introduced by Steve Green, who three years ago was a frustrated chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority. But Georgia was a Republican-ruled state that had just elected a new governor – who had once joined in GOP demands for Obama’s birth certificate. And Georgia’s GOP House members, under tea-party pressure, had just sworn off earmarks.
“I was trying to figure out how to get our story, the story of the harbor deepening, into the White House,” Green said. Mutual friends arranged a meeting with Reed.
In other words, this was public testimony that Republicans came to the mayor of Atlanta for his influence and expertise. A significant endorsement.
But an Atlanta politician with higher ambition has two more handicaps – rural suspicion that the Big City is misgoverned, and jealousy of its economic power. The Island of Atlanta has never elected a governor – and so Reed declared that his city’s world-class airport and the Port of Savannah need to be viewed as a single landscape-changing, economic engine.
“It is my goal to make the city of Atlanta and the city of Savannah and the state of Georgia the logistics hub for the Western hemisphere. Because it goes to our DNA,” the Atlanta mayor said. “We grow together, y’all.”
Perhaps not so curiously, the mayor addressed the coastal crowd as his own constituents. “We are running your capital city in a way that I hope brings honor and a smile to your face,” Reed said. “What people think and feel about Atlanta matters. It impacts your businesses here in Savannah.”
Crime was down, the mayor said. More cops were on Atlanta streets. Cash reserves have grown. A pension crisis that would embarrass “your capital” city has been averted.
“I also want you to know that what happens in Savannah matters to me. I now think of y’all all the time,” the mayor said.
The question is whether Savannah will consider him worth remembering in 2018. There’s a big check that has yet to be delivered.
Reed said that when he arrived at Savannah’s airport, the friend who met him noted that his luggage wasn’t nearly large enough to carry $400 million.
“I told him, if I was getting off the plane with $400 million, I’d want to see more than you here greeting me,” Reed jested. “I’d want a parade. I’d want a band.”
The members of the state ethics commission, eager to bring order to one of the most disordered corners of state government, hired a “receiver” last week to heal their agency and then did they only thing they could.
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