We’ve seen this before during the reign of Mayor Kasim Reed:
Hizzoner is sitting in his office doing something mayoral. He glances up at some City Council proceeding playing on Channel 26. Something happens that he doesn’t like. His fists ball up. He marches across the atrium, enters the meeting, grabs the public mic and starts in on someone who needs straightening out.
Tuesday’s targets were some builder/developer types who had the temerity to oppose an ordinance he was pushing. The dispute was over something seemingly arcane — into which fund the city should park its permitting fees. But this was no ordinary public policy debate, this was one for the time capsule.
The mayor came in stewing and got more strident as he rolled. This was Classic Kasim, full of righteous indignation, absolutely sure that those in opposition were conniving idiots. He growled about getting double-crossed; he went on with his customary dissertation about how much he has achieved (often intoning the first-person singular), and he got all personal and finger-pointy.
The targets of his ire were Scott Selig, a VP of the behemoth development firm Selig Enterprises, and Michael Paris, who runs something called the Council for Quality Growth. During the very public tongue-lashing, the two men sat kowtowed as the mayor gathered steam. The six council members sat at attention like nervous students when the principal enters the classroom.
But the cherry on top of his onslaught was a racial appeal, mentioning “master-servant relationships” not once, or twice. But three times.
Racial appeals are the Taser of Atlanta politics, a weapon to make opponents back off. Reed has been such a practitioner, I know first hand.
Here, he was using it as a unifying force with the council members — all six in the committee meeting were black — and the targets of his wrath were white. It was an effort that made many of those in the room uncomfortable.
“All they care about is their business interests; there is no relationship,” he said, glaring at his targets. “This is Atlanta! Come in here pulling this stunt? Should be ashamed.”
He then spun around, telling council members to “have a great day,” although it didn’t sound like he meant it.
Neither Selig nor Paris would comment. Reed’s spokeswoman Jenna Garland said Reed was using “master-servant relationship” as a term of law, not as a racial cudgel.
“Anyone that heard this statement understood exactly what the Mayor meant,” she wrote. “You are the only person interpreting this statement through the lens of race.”
I agree with her first sentence — everyone did know what he meant. And, no, many others who heard it thought as I do.
Dennis McConnell, a veteran Atlanta homebuilder who has served on a committee to help fix the city’s long dysfunctional permitting process, called the mayor’s performance “a nasty piece of politics.”
McConnell wasn’t named by the mayor, but he spoke to the council committee prior to the mayor’s entrance. The question at hand was whether the city should put money raised by permitting fees into the city’s General Fund. Currently, the money is kept in a proverbial lock box called the Enterprise Fund and is only to be used to streamline the permitting process.
Five years ago, Reed and the council created the Enterprise Fund after years of builder complaints. McConnell said building fees went from $3 per $1,000 to $7 to fund the massive revamp. Developers accepted the increase, he said, knowing the money would be used to fix the problem. The fear is that General Fund means Whatever Pols Want to Spend It On Fund, even though officials assure builders the permitting fees would be used for the intended purpose.
Reed noted that his administration has moved the city’s credit rating eight points (from just above junk) to AA+. “We are on the precipice of having AAA credit,” he said. The $30 million a year that comes in to the General Fund would allow the city to bump up to AAA and borrow more cheaply, he said. (The savings appear to be about 90 cents per each $1,000 borrowed.)
It would also cement the mayor’s future narrative as the city’s financial savior.
What really seemed to infuriate Reed was a little bit of recent history. In his harangue, Reed repeatedly referred to the passage last year of a “sustainability” ordinance, one that he said caused Selig to then go to the Republican-controlled General Assembly and try to “gut it.” (Again, Selig is off licking his wounds and won’t comment.)
Now, Reed said, they were up to it again. He said he ironed out the latest ordinance with the development crowd but “then they walk over here and get on camera and they try to gut my bill. This is my bill! That’s no way to do business.”
“If they can do this to me, what do you think they will do to you?” the mayor asked the council members. No doubt a shiver went down their spines as they thought about sneaky developers sitting with their Republican buddies and carving up Hizzoner’s well-intended legislation.
Then he threw down, glancing over at the interlopers, “If you’re going to come and do this to me, let’s go!”
Minutes later, the bill passed unanimously.
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