Reed inevitable, unapologetic


THE CHALLENGERS

Here’s who’s on the ballot challenging Mayor Kasim Reed.

AL BARTELL

Age: 57

Residence: Midtown

Education: Graduate of St. Leo University with a B.A. in business administration

Occupation: Certified mediator

Why he’s running: Bartell said he is running to improve housing and transportation in Atlanta and to end what he thinks is a revolving door for criminals in the city.

FRASER DUKE

Age: 57

Residence: Collier Hills North

Education: Graduate of Emory University with a BA in history

Occupation: Certified Financial Planner

Why he’s running: Duke said he would like to shore up the city’s finances and improve transportation by leading the way on regional planning.

GLENN WRIGHTSON

Age: 61

Residence:Grant Park

Education: Graduate of Wake Forest University with a degree in business

Occupation: Consultant

Why he’s running: Wrightson would like to improve the quality and efficiency of all city services.

REED ON THE ISSUES

A look at the mayor’s argument for re-election and counterarguments.

PENSION REFORM

Why Reed counts this as a win: The mayor did what his predecessor could not. He got Atlanta employees to take some concessions to reduce the $1.5 billion on unfunded pension liability. That protected the city's ability to pay for both services to residents and benefits for retirees.

Why some Atlanta employees might disagree: Atlanta, according to a recent analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, still has one of the worse-funded pensions in metro Atlanta. While the concessions Reed won in 2010 are a milestone, there is still work to be done to secure retirees' benefits.

CRIME

Why Reed counts this as a win: Reed points to crime statistics that show an historic drop in murders as proof that violent crime is down in Atlanta. Reed has also increased the police force to 2,000 uniformed officers.

Why some East Atlanta residents might disagree: While crime might be down overall, burglaries and armed robberies spiked in some parts of the city. East Atlanta residents complained they felt less safe this summer after a murder and a series of armed robberies prompted some neighborhoods to invest in private security.

STADIUM

Why Reed counts this as a win: After the Georgia General Assembly didn't give the Atlanta Falcons a tax package to help finance a new stadium, speculation grew that the Falcons might build a stadium in the suburbs or leave the state. Reed helped broker a deal that directed $200 million in accommodations taxes to a stadium project. The Falcons will build a $1.2 billion stadium by 2017 that will replace the Georgia Dome, which will be demolished. If the Falcons had left Atlanta, the city would have had a football stadium without a tenant.

Why Vine City residents might disagree: Reed got the stadium built on a site that will connect it to Vine City and other neighborhoods near Martin Luther King Boulevard struggling to redevelop. Reed thinks the stadium can be a linchpin for new development. But longtime residents are skeptical, as the Georgia Dome project also promised redevelopment.

JOBS/ECONOMY

Why Reed counts this as a win: Over Reed's first term, he has brokered several notable deals, including getting Porsche to move its North American headquarters to south Atlanta and luring Michigan-based Pulte Homes.

Why some long-term unemployed may disagree: Atlanta, and Georgia overall, has lagged the rest of the nation in recovery, as the unemployment rate here has been consistently higher than in the rest of the country. Much of that is because metro Atlanta has an inordinate number of jobs related to the housing industry. While the mayor has some notable wins, job creation is not keeping pace with the number of job seekers in the region.

REED ON THE ISSUES

A look at the mayor’s argument for re-election and counterarguments.

PENSION REFORM

Why Reed counts this as a win: The mayor did what his predecessor could not. He got Atlanta employees to take some concessions to reduce the $1.5 billion on unfunded pension liability. That protected the city's ability to pay for both services to residents and benefits for retirees.

Why some Atlanta employees might disagree: Atlanta, according to a recent analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, still has one of the worse-funded pensions in metro Atlanta. While the concessions Reed won in 2010 are a milestone, there is still work to be done to secure retirees' benefits.

CRIME

Why Reed counts this as a win: Reed points to crime statistics that show an historic drop in murders as proof that violent crime is down in Atlanta. Reed has also increased the police force to 2,000 uniformed officers.

Why some East Atlanta residents might disagree: While crime might be down overall, burglaries and armed robberies spiked in some parts of the city. East Atlanta residents complained they felt less safe this summer after a murder and a series of armed robberies prompted some neighborhoods to invest in private security.

STADIUM

Why Reed counts this as a win: After the Georgia General Assembly didn't give the Atlanta Falcons a tax package to help finance a new stadium, speculation grew that the Falcons might build a stadium in the suburbs or leave the state. Reed helped broker a deal that directed $200 million in accommodations taxes to a stadium project. The Falcons will build a $1.2 billion stadium by 2017 that will replace the Georgia Dome, which will be demolished. If the Falcons had left Atlanta, the city would have had a football stadium without a tenant.

Why Vine City residents might disagree: Reed got the stadium built on a site that will connect it to Vine City and other neighborhoods near Martin Luther King Boulevard struggling to redevelop. Reed thinks the stadium can be a linchpin for new development. But longtime residents are skeptical, as the Georgia Dome project also promised redevelopment.

JOBS/ECONOMY

Why Reed counts this as a win: Over Reed's first term, he has brokered several notable deals, including getting Porsche to move its North American headquarters to south Atlanta and luring Michigan-based Pulte Homes.

Why some long-term unemployed may disagree: Atlanta, and Georgia overall, has lagged the rest of the nation in recovery, as the unemployment rate here has been consistently higher than in the rest of the country. Much of that is because metro Atlanta has an inordinate number of jobs related to the housing industry. While the mayor has some notable wins, job creation is not keeping pace with the number of job seekers in the region.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed sums up his first four years in office in his 60-second campaign commercial.

Amid shots of him shaking hands with constituents, Reed says Atlanta, under his direction, has more jobs and businesses, crime is down and the police force now has a record 2,000 officers.

He says the city battered by the worst recession in history is stronger, with four balanced budgets and increased cash reserves — accomplished without raising property taxes.

In the TV ad, Reed never asks for your vote. Instead, the final two seconds show the confidence of a big-city mayor who faces token opposition, who’s sitting on more than $2 million in campaign cash, who’s been endorsed by the president and who has spent more time this election season helping friends than he has on his own race.

“Kasim Reed,” he says. “The Mayor.”

Two days before the election, Reed, 44, is predicted to breeze back into office. His three challengers – Al Bartell, Fraser Duke and Glenn S. Wrightson — have little name recognition, experience in an elected office or money.

Reed has gone over four years from a largely unknown underdog who squeaked by to win a tough runoff, to an incumbent who says he only campaigns on weekends. He has done this by a mix of calculation and good timing and an aggressive style that almost always takes the fight to any opponent — on any issue. Some of Reed’s first-term policy victories were marked by his ability to establish a clear mandate on the city council, sometimes by force.

That allowed him to reopen the city’s recreation centers; push through a plan to pay off a $1.5 billion unfunded pension liability that once consumed a fifth of the budget; and increase Atlanta’s reserve fund from $7.4 million when he took office to $126 million now.

The mayor has also shown an ability to build coalitions, evidenced by his wide support among business leaders and his working relationship with Republican lawmakers. Reed has even forged peace with the state’s Republican governor, working on a plan to deepen the Port of Savannah, which could pump billions of dollars’ worth of shipping commerce into the state.

“He is really smart and he works incredibly hard,” said Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines and incoming chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. “So when you take his intelligence, work ethic and ability to think strategically, you couldn’t have a better mayor.”

But it hasn’t been all smooth. Critics have accused him taking credit for programs and ideas that were already in place when he landed in office – like the airport’s international terminal and the Atlanta Beltline, an eight-year-old master plan for a 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit. Others say that while courting businesses and the affluent, he has ignored the poor, particularly on the stadium.

“We love our mayor and we are proud of the progress he has made in certain areas. Our (disappointment) is in the decisions he has made in the community, Vine City and English Avenue — specifically,” said the Rev. Anthony Motley, pastor of Lindsay Street Baptist Church, near the planned billion-dollar football stadium. “All of the big money is going to be made in our challenged community. We are the community that is going to be impacted by traffic and tailgating. Our worship services are going to be compromised.”

Two other churches were bought out to make room for the stadium and, while the surrounding neighborhoods have been promised millions in incentives, some are skeptical of how it will play out.

“Even as we speak, I am wondering, what has this guy actually done?” said A.E. Green, who has lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years. “He just didn’t strike me as someone who would be in the neighborhoods revitalizing anything. Whatever business people want, they get.”

Reed said his biggest challenge has been fiscal management. The current city budget is about $100 million less than it was the year before he took office, but property taxes haven’t been raised. He said he has not taken credit for anything he didn’t earn.

“At the time when people needed more, we had fewer resources to provide it, so the notion that I inherited a benefit is false. No one did me any favors,” Reed said, noting he faced a $48 million budget shortfall when he took office. “And whoever thinks that has been misinformed. And the government still has to be managed. I don’t take credit for anything, but I am responsible for the stewardship of everything. If I failed in any of that, then what would the story be?”

No one accuses Reed of lacking confidence or walking away from a fight. Behind his desk sits the famous photo of a young Muhammad Ali standing over a prone and dazed Sonny Liston.

“I believe that my style is aggressive,” Reed admits, and he doesn’t see that as a problem. “But for the majority of my time in office, my approval rating has been at 70 percent. The people in Atlanta have gotten to know me. They know that I have a deep love and commitment to the city and this job and I have delivered concrete results. I won by 714 votes, but something happened over the last four years. The public is speaking and the public has a feeling about me that has allowed me to be where I am now.”

Underdog to popular incumbent

In 2009, Reed ran to succeed Mayor Shirley Franklin, against front-runners Mary Norwood and Lisa Borders. As a state senator, he had developed a reputation as a bipartisan deal-maker, but like a young Ali, he was brash, but unknown.

He came in second in the general election before beating Norwood by 714 votes in a bitter run-off.

Four years later, Reed has emerged as one of the country’s leading Democrats with the ear of President Obama, a regular seat on “Meet the Press,” and a shout-out from The Washington Post as one of the nation’s “Top 10 Rising Stars.”

Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University and specialist in race in politics, said Reed has created a delicate balance between seeking the national spotlight and doing his job at home.

“I think he actually likes his job,” Gillespie said. “Nobody has ever accused Reed of not being a hands-on mayor. He has a national media profile, but he is not ubiquitous. He hasn’t worn out his welcome.”

Phil Kent, chairman & CEO of Turner Broadcasting System, said he didn’t know Reed before he ran for mayor. The two had dinner, and the new mayor asked him to chair the Atlanta Committee for Progress, an advisory panel of business executives.

“I think it is simple,” Kent said of Reed’s rise. “Unlike a lot of politicians in Washington, he took the toughest issues head on and did not walk away, politicize them or sweep them under the rug for someone else to deal with. That is very impressive to me. I wished most of our national leaders had the same kind of courage.”

While he has slowed down a bit since then, Reed spent his first year in office in campaign mode. To make up for not being a brand name, he delivered 125 speeches and attended more than 550 events that first year.

No incumbent mayor has lost since Sam Massell in 1973, and none faced a serious challenge since Marvin Arrington challenged Bill Campbell in 1997. Reed has been able to discourage serious challengers through the size of his multimillion-dollar campaign war chest and his knockdown pitches.

Like when he stood up at city council meeting and said that William Perry and Common Cause had “so much stain on it that it stinks.” Or when he pushed to get rid of former Atlanta Public Schools chairman Khaatim Sherrer El, or publicly blasted city council president Ceasar C. Mitchell for attempting to slow down the pension plan process.

Reed said the best decision of his first term “was to take on pension reform in year one,” freeing up $20 million for other uses. “If we hadn’t taken on pension reform, I would probably be in the midst of a tough re-election campaign right now, because there would be no money for recreation centers, pay raises or to hire police officers.”

There have been smaller skirmishes, like the fight with street vendors over when and where they can sell their wares and the battles with Common Cause on stadium and airport spending.

“He has done a great job with community things like opening the recreation centers. And he has developed a good relationship with the business community,” said Bob Holmes, a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives and retired Clark Atlanta University professor. “But doing a good job doesn’t mean there are not still problems.”

Holmes, who for 14 years published “The Status of Black Atlanta,” out of CAU, said that while Reed has moved the city forward, he still hasn’t pushed hard enough on several key issues and over-emphasized others — like public safety.

Reed campaigned on staffing APD with 2,000 members and reducing crime. “For 16 years people said the city should have 2,000 police officers and we achieved it,” Reed said.

But despite perceptions, violent crime is at the level it was in the 1960s when there were far fewer people in the city. In 2012, 85 people were murdered in Atlanta, the second lowest number since 1963.

“Crime has gone down in the last 10 years. So do we really need 2,000 officers?” Holmes wondered. “Why not take some of that money for other needs like potholes or the increased cost of doing business? Public safety is important, but why, if the numbers say we doing a great, do we need more. It is like piling on?”

Reed said he will spend his second term maintaining what has already been done and working on quality-of-life issues. Along with preparing for the launch of the Atlanta Street Car project and the opening of several new museums, he said that would mean everything from acquiring more green space to fixing and beautifying roads to synchronizing traffic lights.

The city has a $900 million infrastructure backlog that he wants to put a dent in.

“Second terms are sometimes fraught with peril. I have a lot of flaws, but complacency isn’t one of them,” Reed said. “I don’t sit around my office, nor does my team, patting each other on the back. There is so much more to do.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks