Reed, 52, is campaigning to become the first candidate to capture a third term as Atlanta mayor since Maynard Jackson did it in 1989.
He is vying for a comeback with a sizable campaign war chest and lots of name recognition. But he must rebuild trust among some voters following federal corruption investigations of his mayoral administration and a federal grand jury probe of his campaign fund spending from 2017. Meanwhile, he is facing a crowded field of opponents, including three City Council members and an attorney who worked in Mayor Bill Campbell’s administration.
A poll conducted for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution between Aug. 30-Sept. 11 showed Reed locked in a statistical tie — within the margin of error of 3.4 percentage points — with City Council President Felicia Moore. While nearly 41% of likely voters were undecided, Reed garnered 23.5% of support. Moore got 20.4%. None of the other 14 candidates topped 6%. If no one gets more than 50% of the vote on Nov. 2, a runoff will be held Nov. 30.
Reed was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, but his family moved with him to Southwest Atlanta when he was an infant. He graduated from Westwood High School, now called Westlake. Reed’s late father worked as a human resources executive. An accomplished actress and singer, Reed’s mother retired from the United Negro College Fund.
Reed started a gold jewelry business when he was a teenager and used his earnings to pay for college. He chose Howard University after learning one of his heroes, then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, had attended the HBCU. Reed has said Howard is “the biggest influencer in my life besides my faith in God and my family.”
Reed served as a student government representative on Howard’s board, when former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young held a seat on the panel. Young remembers Reed then as clever, sensitive and wanting to help others.
“I told him then, ‘I like the way you think. Hurry up, finish law school, come back to Atlanta and run for something. We are going to need a man like you in 20 years,’” said Young, who succeeded Jackson as mayor.
After he received his law degree at Howard, Reed went to work for a pair of international law firms. He entered politics in 1998, winning a seat in the Georgia Legislature. He remained there until 2009.
Kathy Ashe, a former state legislator who worked alongside Reed in the statehouse, remembers his effectiveness.
“When he was serving as a state representative and as a state senator and the city needed something accomplished,” she said, “he had to be at the table to get it done.”
Reed worked as Shirley Franklin’s campaign manager when she became Atlanta’s first female mayor in 2001 and when she won reelection. Reed ran successfully to replace the term-limited mayor in 2009, narrowly defeating then-City Councilwoman Mary Norwood. He did better with his reelection bid, capturing 95% of the vote.
As mayor, Reed oversaw a city development boom, including construction of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the refurbishment of State Farm Arena. Keeping a campaign promise, he raised millions of dollars in the private sector to reopen city recreation centers, calling them “Centers of Hope.” His administration hired many more police officers and the city experienced sharp declines in burglaries, robberies and aggravated assaults.
At the same time, his mayoral administration was marred by scandals. A years-long federal investigation led to bribery convictions against his chief procurement officer and a deputy chief of staff. Last year, a federal grand jury indicted his chief financial officer, Jim Beard, on fraud, theft and weapons charges. Reed also drew scrutiny for lavish spending with his city-issued credit card and for awarding huge bonuses to members of his cabinet just before he left office.
In June, the AJC reported that federal prosecutors had issued a subpoena to Reed’s former campaign attorney in an investigation of wire fraud involving the alleged use of campaign funds for personal purchases. Reed’s personal attorneys said he has been cleared of wrongdoing in the investigation and that prosecutors have told them he is not a target in the ongoing probe.
In an interview, Moore, the City Council president, took aim at Reed, saying his time in City Hall “is costing the city today in the cloud of corruption that is still over city government as a result of his administration.”
Reed said he takes “full responsibility for everything that happened in my administration, but I think that voters will consider the totality of my record.”
“First of all, I never dishonored my office. I never have been accused by anyone of wrongdoing,” he said. “What the review shows is that I am the most vetted person in this campaign.”
On the campaign trail, Reed often focuses on the city’s battle against violent crime. As mayor, Reed said, he would announce a search for a new police chief, hire and train 750 new police officers, tap into city reserves to help pay for police overtime and keep the city jail open.
“I want you all to know, I am going to solve the problems of crime and violence,” he told the dozens of voters who assembled to see him at Trinity Towers. “To put it in plainer terms, I am going to cut all of this foolishness out.”
Reed emphasized he would also focus on affordable housing, jobs, mental health care and protection against COVID-19.
When he was done speaking, he sat down so a supporter could perform for him Jim Weatherly’s “Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me.” Reed swayed in his seat, silently singing along. As the vocalist finished, Reed playfully asked, “You all got any Lou Rawls?”
Moments later, Reed sat for an interview in the apartment complex’s cavernous atrium. He described his candidacy as “a calling of the heart.”
“I love Atlanta,” he said. “I think that I am the person who is most able to get us through this difficult time. And after that, I am going to go back to my life.”
Profiling the candidates:
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will publish deep profiles of the five major Atlanta mayoral candidates as part of the newspaper’s comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Race for City Hall. Those candidates garnered at least 1% support in a recent University of Georgia School of Public & International Affairs poll commissioned by the AJC. There are 14 candidates on the ballot. You can learn more about each of them by going to ajc.com and clicking on our page dedicated to coverage of the race for Atlanta mayor.
We want to hear from you:
If you have tips to share, questions for the candidates or if you want to tell us how you think we are doing in covering the race for mayor, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view all of the AJC’s coverage of the 2021 Atlanta elections, go to https://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta-mayors-race-2021/
Schedule of Profiles:
Monday: Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown
Tuesday: Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens
Wednesday: Attorney Sharon Gay
Thursday: Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore
Friday: Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed