Kasim Reed, who fulfilled his lifelong goal by becoming mayor of Atlanta by the age of 40 and who then left City Hall eight years later under a cloud of controversy and investigation, has officially entered the wide-open mayor’s race.
Reed filed paperwork Tuesday night creating a committee that will allow him to begin accepting campaign donations for the 2021 race, according to documents filed with the state ethics commission. The filing comes before Reed’s 52nd birthday party on Thursday, which is being used as a $1,000-per-guest fundraiser.
Credit: Mandi Albright / AJC
There have been months of speculation about Reed’s entrance into the race. His potential candidacy seemed to solidify last month when Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms dropped out.
Bottoms’ announcement was historic — the first time since Maynard Jackson that an incumbent mayor chose to not seek reelection.
Reed’s candidacy is historic in a similar way. He becomes the first mayor since Jackson to seek a third term in office. A Reed spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday.
Bottoms, whose 2017 candidacy was boosted by Reed’s endorsement and fundraising prowess, laughed when asked Wednesday if she would return the favor and endorse Reed’s candidacy. Bottoms ultimately said she’s waiting until after the August 20th qualifying deadline before revealing her endorsement.
There are several other contenders already in the race, including three members of the City Council and a Denton’s attorney who worked in Mayor Bill Campbell’s administration.
But Reed, an attorney and Howard University alumnus, easily becomes the candidate with the highest name recognition. After serving in the state House and Senate, Reed became mayor in 2010 and oversaw the city during a boon of development — including construction of Mercedes Benz Stadium and the refurbishment of State Farm Arena.
But a federal corruption investigation also began during his tenure and ensnared several members of his administration, including bribery convictions against his chief procurement officer and a deputy chief of staff. Reed’s chief financial officer is currently under indictment for fraud and weapons charges.
The investigation dates to 2015, but it was not publicly revealed until 2017. The probe’s first trial involves Mitzi Bickers, who ran the Get Out The Vote portion of Reed’s first mayoral campaign and became his Director of Human Services.
Bickers pleaded not guilty to an 11-count indictment that alleges a $2 million bribery scheme, and her trial could start in January — after the next mayor is inaugurated.
The trials of Reed’s Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard and airport contractor Jeff Jafari have yet to be scheduled. Both men pleaded not guilty, and neither will likely see a jury before next year.
“I imagine they will go through with prosecution of those who have been indicted and the timing may be unfortunate,” Georgia State University public policy professor Harvey Newman said. “I don’t see Kasim Reed as being tainted by that scandal.”
Former Mayor Shirley Franklin, who served two terms before Reed, declined to comment on his candidacy Tuesday, but then added: “The last I heard, there was a federal investigation of his administration. That’s all I know.”
In an interview with Channel 2 last month, Reed said authorities have never accused him of corruption and apologized for the now years-long federal investigation, which is ongoing.
The end of Reed’s second term in 2018 was also marked by controversy for his free-spending of taxpayer dollars, which included handing out huge bonuses to members of his cabinet and lavish charges on his city-issued credit card. Reed repaid the city $12,000 after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution requested copies of his credit card statements.
Several of the bonus recipients returned the money after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News reported on them.
Brian Robinson, a Republican strategist, said he’s talked to members of his party who said they would support Reed based on his track record on crime and economic development. He said the former mayor could be successful if he builds a biracial coalition with support from people in places like Buckhead.
“It’s hard to imagine a time where a public figure under the longtime cloud of a federal investigation would be in a stronger political position than he’s in today,” Robinson said.
Ethics complaint filed Wednesday
News of Reed’s candidacy didn’t sit well with some taxpayer watchdog groups.
Georgia Ethics Watchdogs filed an ethics complaint against Reed Wednesday, alleging violations of campaign finance disclosure laws and saying the former mayor failed to file two year-end reports while maintaining $166,000 in his campaign account after leaving office.
Stephanie Stuckey, a former Georgia House member who was the chief resilience officer in Reed’s administration, said the former mayor has “a proven record” in bolstering police and reducing crime.
“I was talking to some Buckhead moms at a cocktail party and they were talking about how they wish Kasim Reed can come back,” she said.
Jabari Simama, a former Atlanta city councilman who represented a Westside district for eight years, said Reed has to restore public confidence after the corruption investigation if he hopes to get his old job back.
Simama said Reed’s track record on crime could help him with fundraising, especially from the business community, but Atlanta’s political dynamics are different than they were four years ago.
“Most people in the neighborhood are taking a wait-and-see posture,” Simama said. “They know the good and the bad of Reed’s career.”
Ann Bailey, a resident of Westview in southwest Atlanta, said she doesn’t think Reed is the best candidate to solve Atlanta’s issues.
“Let new faces, new voices, new ideas come forward,” she said. “Kasim already had his chance.”
New race, old rivals
The race will pit Reed against some familiar political foes.
Council President Felicia Moore, who was the first person to enter the race, was a staunch and persistent critic of Reed during his time as mayor. Moore was a member of the city council during those eight years.
“We can continue on the road that led us here, to a place where our friends and loved ones feel unsafe in their homes and neighborhoods, or we can chart the course to a new future for our city,” Moore said in a statement Tuesday. “Together we can create an Atlanta where every neighborhood is safe and end years of corruption.”
Councilman Andre Dickens, who jumped in the race last month, co-sponsored an ordinance prohibiting the misuse of city credit cards after the AJC and Channel 2 reporting.
“I sponsored and passed the toughest anti-corruption legislation in Atlanta’s history, banning credit card spending on things like alcohol, airfare, dry cleaning and personal vehicle repairs,” Dickens said. “This was needed because of the rampant abuses in the former mayor’s administration. Corruption is Crime.
“When I meet with everyday Atlantans working to make our city better, what I hear is people are ready to move forward and to turn the page on that corrupt past. The time is now.”
Other candidates in the race are Councilman Antonio Brown and Denton’s attorney Sharon Gay. Brown declined to comment.
Gay provided a statement late Wednesday, calling Reed’s candidacy a “side show” because his administration created “municipal corruption, ethical violations and a federal investigation that to this day impedes Atlanta from moving forward.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters J. Scott Trubey and Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.
INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: ATLANTA’S MAYORS SINCE 1970
— Timeline by Mandi Albright, AJC