Borders and Reed. A beautiful friendship or political payback?

Thursday evening, Reed will be the headliner at a reception to help Borders retire her estimated $150,000 campaign debt.

Borders, the former Atlanta City Council president and now co-chair of the mayor's transition team, said Reed's support is an example of two political friends helping each other. Others call it political payback.

"I don't doubt (Borders' sincerity), but she did a favor for him and he's doing a favor for her," said Bill Bozarth, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, a nonprofit government watchdog group.

Borders likened the mayor's support to President Barack Obama's effort to help his 2008 Democratic Party political rival Hillary Clinton wipe out her campaign debt. Borders compared the partnership to President Abraham Lincoln's effort to appoint some of his political opponents to his cabinet.

"We are modeling the national stage," Borders said in a telephone interview. "It's a team of rivals."

The mayor said in an interview Wednesday he wants Borders' undivided attention on his transition efforts. That includes helping him hire a police chief, chief financial officer, fire rescue chief and Public Works commissioner.

"She is doing extraordinary work for me on the transition. I want her focused on my transition, rather than focused on a debt from a political campaign," said Reed, who called Borders a friend.

The invitation list for Thursday's reception includes some of Atlanta's most influential civic leaders -- baseball Hall of Fame member Hank Aaron, Atlanta Regional Commission chairman Tad Leithead and union leader Charlie Flemming. It will be held at the top-shelf One Ninety One Club on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta.

The campaign debt stems from vendors who haven't been paid and money Borders loaned to her campaign, said her spokeswoman, Liz Flowers.

The political partnership between Borders and Reed has blossomed since her endorsement in late November. Reed credited Borders for his paper-thin mayoral victory over Norwood. Reed subsequently named her co-chair of his mayoral transition team.

Bozarth noted Reed can help Borders tap into donors such as parking companies, unions, engineering companies and friends outside Georgia who haven't already written checks to her campaign.

Emory University assistant political science professor Andra Gillespie wouldn't speculate whether Borders and Reed struck a deal. Gillespie did suggest it would help Reed to have another political ally in elected office, if Borders successfully campaigns for another post. The mayor, who's in his fourth week on the job, stood behind U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of DeKalb County earlier this month when Johnson announced he was running for re-election. Johnson endorsed Reed in the mayor's race.

Borders conceded that eliminating her campaign debt is necessary if she's interested in running for another office. Councilman H. Lamar Willis said the political rumor mill is churning with talk that Borders is being encouraged to run for a seat on the Fulton County Commission, possibly chair. He's also heard similar talk about Norwood.

Is Borders interested?

"Everything is on the table," Borders said, refusing to discuss specific posts. "Public service is in my blood."

Georgia Democratic Party chairwoman Jane Kidd said in an e-mail she was unaware of Borders' political aspirations.

As for Norwood, efforts to contact her or her campaign spokeswoman by telephone were unsuccessful.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.