You’d figure Mayor Kasim Reed would rather be elsewhere than here at the Atlanta Press Club luncheon.
He’d prefer to be facing a Senate confirmation committee as Hillary’s pick to become transportation secretary or HUD chief or something else as grandiose, befitting a fellow of his stature.
Instead, The Donald won last fall, so Hizzoner is left in his hometown facing a roomful of media types, talking about his plans for his last 10 months in office and how the federal investigation into bribery for city contracts is not going to let him lose focus.
Perhaps he’s whistling past the graveyard in his vow to look forward, but The Mayor has spent so much time working to build a reputation to take him onward and upward, that it must be annoying to have to deal with those wanting to dwell on the ugly scandal brewing right beneath his nose.
The Mayor on Tuesday was at times thoughtful, playful, reflective and, of course, combative and cocky as he reminisced on his seven-plus years at Atlanta’s helm.
And now with an election underway to find a successor, he must endure the barbs thrown by some candidates working to distinguish themselves from him.
He wouldn’t say which candidate he’s for in this year’s mayoral race, a campaign that already has more contenders than I have fingers. But he did make clear who he’s not for: state Sen. Vincent Fort, ex-Council President Cathy Woolard, Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who barely lost to Reed in 2009, and Vincent Fort. Did I already mention Fort? He really doesn’t like Vince.
As a public service — and to avoid calls from campaigns griping that I left them out — I’ll mention the rest of the field: City Council President Ceasar Mitchell; Councilman Kwanza Hall; Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms; Peter Aman, a retired Bain & Co. bigwig and Reed’s former chief operating officer; Michael Sterling, former director of the city’s Workforce Development Agency; Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves; perennial candidate Elbert “Al” Bartell; and Debra Ann Hampton.
The race contains a quarter of the City Council (the ambitious ones) and two men who worked for the mayor, leaving them to traverse a tricky path. They must project a sense of insider gravitas but, since no one really knows where the federal investigation is headed, they must also be able to distance themselves from City Hall and possibly the man they want to replace, which would put them on his bad side.
As a boxing fan — and I know The Mayor is, too — we are forever creating theoretical match-ups of fighters from different eras and arguing who would win: Carmen Basilio vs. Thomas Hearns, Joe Louis vs. Mike Tyson and so on.
Well, Reed played a political version of that game at Tuesday’s luncheon, pitting himself against this year’s crop of candidates.
Guess what? The Mayor would knock them out. All of them.
“Everybody who’s running for mayor could have run against me,” he said, before later adding, “Not one of them could beat me. You might not like me saying that, but the public likes it.”
Then he climbed to the top rope of the ring and held his championship belt up high.
The Mayor is 47 years old but sounded well beyond that in age when he wondered aloud how soft it has gotten for mayoral candidates compared to the rough, bare-knuckled days of, um, eight years ago.
“I don’t know what’s going on; we ran for two years,” he said. In fact, John Eaves, who has drawn Reed’s ire, just joined the fray the other day, apparently thinking that something might blow up at City Hall, leaving him to pit himself as the outsider to come in and clean things up.
“I’m just stunned by the campaigns people are running, just stunned,” Reed said, noting that candidates are polling with “9 (percent), 5, 4, 3, 2, which is zero with the margin of error. And you have an election in November?!?”
It was a wonderful get-off-my-lawn moment. It was like Hizzoner had to walk up the hill both ways each day with Mitzi Bickers to set up signs and snatch that tight election out of Mary Norwood’s bony fingers.
The Mayor always sounds like he’s still running for office and continually ticks off accomplishments — snagging corporate HQs to the city, developing the Beltline, building a rainy day fund, pushing through a sales tax to help infrastructure and MARTA, reducing crime (except for that bothersome jump last year in murders). Some of those accomplishments are certainly due to his force of personality and smarts. But some of it was laid out for him already when he came here.
“My message today is we need to keep pushing,” he said. “We need to accept the Justice Department’s investigation as somebody doing the city a favor, because if there’s a problem you have to get to the bottom of it and punish any individual involved with wrongdoing.
“I’m not going to let the seven years of work that we have done be thrown out the window.”
Eight years pass and then, because of term limits, a mayor must go. Naturally, if there were no term limits, Hizzoner would whup anyone on the horizon. He said so himself.
But the term limits create a hard-stop to an administration (he called it a “finish line and a wall”), and that caused him to be a little more, shall we say, testy than he needed to be.
Asked what he’d do different, Reed said: “I think I would spend more time working with relationships once we accomplished our results. Being mayor of a major American city means you need a certain amount of force to get things accomplished. And that can often leave hard feelings and fractured relationships.”
I suppose he got caught up in the sentiment of the moment. Walking out, he even said hello to me.
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.