In his last appearance as mayor before the Atlanta Press Club, Kasim Reed on Tuesday tried to put a positive spin on the bribery scandal threatening to mar his legacy.
After citing a list of accomplishments over the past seven years — including a residential boom, thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements — Reed acknowledged the probe has the potential to taint everything he has done.
“We need to accept the Justice Department’s investigation as something that is doing the city a favor because if there is a problem with our process, we need to get to the bottom of it and we need to punish any individual involved in wrongdoing,” he said. “I’m not going to let the last seven years of what we have done to move Atlanta to a position it simply has not been in be thrown out the window.”
Federal authorities are investigating allegations of “pay-for-play” in contracting at City Hall. Since January, two subcontractors have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and the city fired its chief procurement officer last week after the FBI confiscated computers and other items from his office.
Reed has not been implicated in the probe and has said he has not been interviewed by federal authorities.
A standing-room only crowd of journalists from all of the city’s print, radio and broadcast media, as well as national newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, turned out for Reed’s appearance at the swanky Commerce Club in downtown Atlanta.
The mayor’s roughly 50-minute speech was wide-ranging, touching on the successes of his tenure, surprises he hopes to unveil in the coming months before it ends later this year and even handicapping the race to succeed him. He declined to say who he thinks has the best chance.
It also continues a victory lap of sorts the mayor has been having since the new year. Looking back at over his tenure, Reed has given similar speeches that focus heavily on economic development, such as attracting NCR Corp. and the U.S. headquarters of German car manufacturer Mercedes Benz to the region, and convincing Atlantans to increase the sales tax by almost a penny last November to pay for improvements to MARTA and the city’s ailing infrastructure.
He boasts of getting many homeless veterans off the streets, outpacing Gwinnett, Forsyth and Cobb counties in the number of building permits issued and a rosier financial picture than when he took office in 2010.
“My goal is to leave the city of Atlanta with $175 million in the bank for a rainy day,” he said Tuesday.
But it’s clear the bribery scandal is having an impact. The laundry list of accomplishments he has committed to memory now come with a caveat: “Despite the fact we are currently in the midst of the toughest period of my administration … the City of Atlanta by every measure is absolutely ascendant.
The Tuesday meeting with the Press Club was different from the others in one way, however. It gave him his last opportunity to meet with a frequent adversary: the media.
Things started out jovial. Referencing the ongoing battle between the press and President Donald Trump, who has called the media the “enemy of the people,” Reed said, “Even members of the press need love.”
But Reed was more combative when defending his record, his use of press releases to go after specific reporters and media outlets, and his office’s decision to release more than 1.4 million documents related to the bribery case, including hundreds of pages that had no information on them because they related to employee’s personal information like Social Security numbers.
He said while the press may not support him, the public does, with his favorability dropping no lower than 62 percent throughout his time in office. He did not cite the origins of the numbers.
“You all’s profession isn’t viewed any more favorably than mine,” he said, “but I’m not going to go Trump on you because you’re not fake news, you’re news. You are valuable, you are essential.”