Atlanta police union, sometimes at odds with Reed in the past, endorses him for a 3rd term

The union representing most of Atlanta’s police officers, which was at odds with former mayor Kasim Reed at times during his first two terms in City Hall, endorsed him for a third term Thursday.

Leaders of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 623 stood with Reed outside City Hall and said he would have officers’ backs, pitching him as the best candidate in the race to address officer shortages at the Atlanta Police Department.

“Kasim Reed has been overwhelmingly vocal about his support of our police and the hard work they do, and has never wavered on those sentiments,” said Atlanta police Lt. Kevin Knapp, the president of the union, which represents over 1,000 Atlanta officers.

In an election that has been dominated by discussions over crime and policing, Reed said the endorsement is a sign he is best-suited to turn around violent crime numbers in Atlanta. Reed has vowed to hire 750 new officers, if elected.

“Help is on the way, Atlanta,” Reed said, adding that he “will never throw an Atlanta police officer under the bus.”

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The politics that can sometimes surround such an endorsement were also on display Thursday, as Reed and his chief rival, City Council President Felicia Moore, traded barbs over what went into the endorsement and their respective public safety records.

At the beginning of the press conference at City Hall, Knapp said the union also met with Moore and that she had advised the union’s executive board that she would accept a donation from the union but did not want their public endorsement, “because it would hurt her in the public eye and it would hurt her chances of winning this election.”

“Why would a partnership with the police have a negative bearing on this particular political race?” Knapp said.

Moore said that’s not what happened.

“He is lying,” she said, adding that she sought a public endorsement from the union. “I never asked them for just their money.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed stands with supporters outside City Hall on Thursday to accept the endorsement of the police union that represents most Atlanta officers. (J.D. Capelouto/jdcapelouto@ajc.com)

Credit: J.D. Capelouto/jdcapelouto@ajc.com

Former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed stands with supporters outside City Hall on Thursday to accept the endorsement of the police union that represents most Atlanta officers. (J.D. Capelouto/jdcapelouto@ajc.com)

Credit: J.D. Capelouto/jdcapelouto@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed stands with supporters outside City Hall on Thursday to accept the endorsement of the police union that represents most Atlanta officers. (J.D. Capelouto/jdcapelouto@ajc.com)

Credit: J.D. Capelouto/jdcapelouto@ajc.com

Credit: J.D. Capelouto/jdcapelouto@ajc.com

Moore said she had an early conversation with Vince Champion, the southeast regional director of the union, and they had a frank discussion about how some people perceive union endorsements in the current political climate. They also discussed whether the group would take sides in the mayor’s race, according to Moore.

But when she met with the local leadership, Moore said: “I asked them for their endorsement” and said she had no concerns about it.

The decision to endorse Reed was made by the union’s executive team after talking to members and hearing what issues were most important to them, union leaders said.

Earlier in the day, Moore told reporters she was surprised by the endorsement, saying she thinks Reed engaged in “political play” to get it. Asked about those claims, Reed said, “That’s what somebody says who loses,” adding that Moore has an “abysmal” public safety record. He brought up her opposition to giving pay raises to officers in 2010.

City Councilman and mayoral candidate Andre Dickens — who rolled out his own endorsement from the local Communications Workers of America union Thursday — said a statement that he is surprised the police union “would endorse an individual who carries with him the cloud of corruption from the overwhelming number of senior officials in his administration who have been convicted or indicted for corruption.”

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The endorsement was significant in part given the history between the union and Reed when he was mayor.

In 2013, the group was part of a lawsuit filed against the city that aimed to roll back the pension reform Reed championed in his first term. He resisted giving pay raises to police and firefighters in 2015 as the lawsuit was pending, drawing ire from union leaders, though the Georgia Supreme Court upheld Reed’s pension reform plan later that year.

The disagreements became so public that the firefighters and police unions put up a billboard on the Downtown Connector that said “Mayor Kasim Reed does not care about public safety.”

But the former mayor said Thursday that the past disputes came up during their recent conversations, and both sides have grown to realize the pension plan has benefitted the city financially in the long term.

“When you’re in the throes of an argument, you don’t know how the story ends,” he said. “These people are standing with me because they have 8 years of experience with me. Wasn’t always good, wasn’t always perfect, but they know that I was for them.”

Reed also pointed to a 3.5% pay increase for officers awarded in 2011, and another bump in 2013. He also said he remains open to revisiting the city’s pension package and possibly increasing benefits.