In a race that’s shaping up to be more of a coronation than re-election, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has shown no sign that he views his second term as a done deal.
Recent financial disclosures reveal the mayor’s fundraising abilities have far outpaced those of competitors and fellow politicians alike. Reed is heading into his fall nonpartisan election with $1.6 million cash-in-hand, about the same as Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle combined.
Deal maintains $1.1 million in cash for his 2014 race against a fellow Republican, Dalton Mayor David Pennington. (A Democratic opponent has yet to emerge.) Cagle has about half of that.
While working for Atlanta’s votes, the mayor has picked up fans from across the country. About a quarter of funds raised for the 2013 race are from out-of-state donors, another sign that Reed has risen to become a player on the national stage. Reed was a prominent fundraiser for President Barack Obama’s second presidential campaign and maintains close ties with the White House.
With beaucoup bucks on hand and no real opponents on the horizon, Reed is positioned to play kingmaker with Democratic politics. He can direct dollars to supporters and allies with campaign contributions and give unlimited amounts to third-party groups, like a favored charity or the financially stumbling Democratic Party of Georgia.
But Reed spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs says the mayor is above all focused on his re-election campaign, a bid he’s approaching with the same gusto as he did in 2009. Then, he raised around $3 million to eke out a win against Mary Norwood by 700 votes.
“Mayor Reed is solely focused on his re-election,” Jacobs said in a statement. “He never, ever takes winning an election for granted, and he never takes the vote of the people of Atlanta for granted. Never.”
In a sign of Reed’s profile beyond Atlanta, corporations, attorneys, entertainment figures and even U.S. ambassadors have given $720,000 in recent years. A little more than $100,000 came from California donors alone.
In one instance, a New York-based family whose firm Delaware North Companies has done work with Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta gave a combined $22,500 to Reed’s re-election campaign. DNC is a global hospitality company and provides services to airports, hotels and sports arenas and more.
A DNC spokeswoman declined to say whether the firm hopes to win a contract with the new $1 billion Falcons stadium set to open in 2017, but said that supporting elected officials is part of their work.
“Given our global business, we closely follow issues related to our industries and are active in the political process at the local, state and at the federal level,” DNC’s Jesse Baier said via email.
For Washington, D.C.-based hotelier Evens Charles, maxing out contributions with a $2,500 check to Reed was his way of supporting the mayor’s efforts to improve downtown Atlanta. Charles, president of Frontier Development & Hospitality Group, owns a Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott near the Underground.
“Our No. 1 interest is cleaning up the Underground area,” said Charles, who said he also donated to a handful of Atlanta City Council members who have worked on downtown revitalization. “We voiced our opinion to the mayor and to the council and they are attentive, and that’s one of the main reasons why we continue to support the mayor.”
Georgia State University political science professor Steve Anthony said Reed’s support from across the country is unusual for a leader of a midsize city.
“It says two things: One, he’s obviously got a reputation, and two, this also means he’s been involved nationwide in local or statewide elections and politics,” said Anthony, a former head of the state’s Democratic Party. “People are making an investment in what they see as a growth stock.”
But Reed’s strongest supporters are in-state, a list of well-heeled and influential donors. A sample of contributors includes: Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Democratic former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn and daughter Michelle Nunn, who is expected to run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2014, film tycoon Tyler Perry, Deal’s chief of staff Chris Riley, Atlanta business leaders who joined the mayor in backing the failed T-SPLOST campaign, lobbyists and vendors with city contracts.
Anthony noted that Reed’s deep well of contributions also demonstrates an ease with fundraising not often seen in previous eras. Since taking office in 2009, the former state senator has raised $2.5 million for his 2013 campaign.
“He is like the younger generation. They understand it and there’s more of a willingness to engage in it versus people in my generation,” he said. “He knows how to do it, and he’s got a good team of professionals that help him with it.”
Savannah-based architect Patrick Shay, who contributed $250 to the mayor’s campaign after hearing him speak at an event there, is evidence of Reed’s skill.
“I’m not a rich person, so I don’t give money frequently or easily. But when I heard him speak, I said, ‘You know, if this guy is mayor of Atlanta forever, I want to support him in that,’” said Shay, who said he was impressed by the mayor’s work with the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. “I would give serious consideration to him if he ran for governor or senator or even sheriff.”
A handful of Atlantans have filed paperwork in recent years to challenge Reed for his seat, but none are likely threats. In recent months, only Al Bartell, a public policy activist, has actively campaigned for the job. Bartell reported a zero balance in his most recent financial disclosure.
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Staff writers Chris Joyner and Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.