Kasim Reed was, in many ways, a good mayor for Atlanta. Maybe not great -- certainly not Beyoncé-at-Coachella great, as he himself sees it -- but good nonetheless.
During Reed’s two terms in office, the city has prospered. The crime rate fell, transformative projects such as the BeltLine moved forward, corporate America bought into the Atlanta story and thanks in part to Reed, Atlanta’s sometimes crippling bureaucracy became more professional and efficient (although considerable work remains).
Reed’s trademark accomplishment was the partnership that he forged between Atlanta’s black Democratic, urban leadership and Gov. Nathan Deal, a white Republican with roots in rural Georgia. The level of cooperation between the two was tangible and historic, reassuring audiences from corporate boardrooms to the state Legislature to Washington, D.C., that together, Atlanta and Georgia could make promises and keep them.
Given that record of success, Reed’s post-mayoral political prospects should have been bright. Running statewide as a black Atlanta Democrat has been a fool’s folly in Georgia, but Reed is still relatively young, the state is changing and in his work with Deal he has built ties and credibility with the business community that would stand him in good stead. Even if statewide office proved elusive, a possible future in federal office beckoned.
Now, in the wake of a widespread federal corruption investigation into Atlanta city government, those doors may be slamming shut. In the latter days of his second term, through a flurry of subpoenas, indictments and guilty pleas by underlings, Reed has claimed that he just didn’t know, and given the continued absence of evidence to the contrary, that might protect him legally.
In the political realm, that excuse is less compelling.
If Reed didn’t know, he certainly should have known. Those implicated in the scandal have been his people, people in positions of trust because he put them there. Even more damning, his claim of innocence through ignorance just doesn’t square with his carefully nurtured image as a hands-on, competent manager who called the tune and could make the city bureaucracy dance to it.
Like a certain president, Reed is now learning that a federal probe begun to expose possible wrongdoing in one arena can legitimately expand into other areas when facts are uncovered that demand it. As Channel Two Action News and the AJC have reported, Reed hurried to repay $12,000 in questionable personal charges on his city-issued credit card after spending records were sought through the Open Records Act. In the wake of those media reports, federal investigators have now subpoenaed those records as well. They also appear to be investigating $40,000 that Reed had donated to a city-related non-profit, which was then used to repay the city for first-class travel for Reed and staff members on a city trip to South Africa.
As anyone who has watched City Hall for the last eight years can attest, Reed projects a confidence that can often veer into arrogance. He does not like being questioned or challenged and again like a certain president, when hit he makes it a point to strike back twice as hard. I can’t predict the outcome of the federal investigation, although guilty pleas in similar cases involving DeKalb County commissioners suggest cause for concern. But based on what we do know, Reed’s dislike of being held accountable may prove to be his political if not legal undoing.