Torpy at Large: ATL ‘Transportation Mayor’ rolls off into the dark

Last weekend was the Mayor's Masked Ball, the gala fund-raising event and last one hosted by outgoing Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

It was an occasion for Hizzoner to bask in his own glowingness and pass the baton to his mentee, Keisha Lance Bottoms, who will become Atlanta’s 60th mayor.

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But such a joyous celebration couldn’t end there. For a proper after-hours after-party, Reed snagged the Millennium Gate at 17th Street, the Atlanta version of the Arc de Triomphe.

The late-hour festivities didn’t go over well with the owners and management of the surrounding Atlantic Station development, who tried to get the city to tone down the bash. The ownership got a lawyer and contacted the city but were met with “resistance every step of the way,” according to an email from management to a resident.

About 10 minutes of fireworks exploded around midnight, awakening nearby residents. And then music pumped into the wee hours. Millennium Gate owner Rodney Cook, who lent Reed and Co. the facility because he thinks the mayor has done a good job, is left sweeping up, offering complaining residents wine and cheese parties atop his attraction.

The city’s response to those who opposed the late party was Classic Kasim — it has always been “My way or the highway!”

That’s why I’ll call him the Transportation Mayor.

It’s a fitting moniker. Back in 2013, Reed, who was tight with President Barack Obama, was rumored to be in the running to become U.S. Transportation Secretary after Secretary Ray LaHood resigned. The idea of Atlanta’s mayor bumping up into the job made sense. Reed had just wangled tens of millions of dollars from the feds to build the now-underutilized Atlanta Streetcar. And he had been getting kudos from the likes of New York Times columnist Thom Friedman, who called him “one of the best of this new breed of leaders.”

Ultimately, however, the job went up the road to the mayor of Charlotte, Anthony Foxx.

Interestingly, that same Foxx was a prisoner at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport last Sunday during the infamous blackout. He tweeted: “Total and abject failure here at ATL Airport today. I am stuck on @delta flight, passengers and crew tolerating it. But there is no excuse for lack of workable redundant power source. NONE!”

He added that snafus happen, but “whatever the cause, it feels like this one was compounded by confusion and poor communication.”

That's right, just hours after attending two sensational parties congratulating him, Mayor Reed had to head to the airport to make sense of a massive screwup that strangled much of the nation's air traffic and stranded tens of thousands of travelers.

During the news conference, he said there is "no evidence to suggest the fire was caused deliberately.”

A fire knocked out the airport’s power station and also its backup, which is about as snafu as you can get. Thousands of travelers were left in the dark, both figuratively and literally.

Later, my colleagues Willoughby Mariano and Johnny Edwards wrote: "After more than 24 hours without answers — with the message tightly controlled by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed — the AJC learned late Monday that the world's busiest air hub had no plan to cope with an airport-wide power outage.

“The breakdown in communicating with passengers stuck in Atlanta and held up in airports worldwide can be chalked up to the Reed administration’s laser focus on accuracy. Rather than inform 35,000 stranded passengers that the outage was connected to a fire in an airport substation, city officials opted to keep travelers out of the loop until they had ironclad confirmation.”

Reed later said it took a long time to determine what had happened. “Rather than give the wrong info, we needed to speak the truth,” he said.

At a January 29, 2014, press conference in the governor’s office at the state Capitol, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed responds to a pointed question about the city’s response to what’s become known as Snowmageddon. BEN GRAY / BGRAY@AJC.COM

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The Transportation Mayor has been forced, sometimes unfairly, to be The Face Of Atlanta during some seismic transportation meltdowns from fire and snow.

In March, he faced TV cameras after a chunk of I-85, a jugular artery of city traffic, collapsed because of a fire.

It wasn’t Hizzoner’s fault. Blame belongs with either the Georgia Department of Transportation for leaving old rubberized tubing under the highway, or the homeless dude who allegedly set the stuff ablaze. Nonetheless, taking hits is part of a mayor’s duties.

During Snowmageddon 2014, Reed got into it with TV's eminently likable weatherman Al Roker when he criticized Reed and Gov. Nathan Deal for "poor planning" during the storm that gridlocked the metro area for a day, leaving some motorists stranded for 12 hours or more. Reed, of course, pushed back (because he always pushes back), telling national media, "I do not have jurisdiction of the highways."

Of course, he made few friends when it was learned his police escort drove him on emergency lanes past frozen traffic to make a late-afternoon interview at the Weather Channel near I-75 and I-285, the heart of the congestion.

I'm guessing Civilian Reed will sure miss the blue lights atop his SUV and his police driver.

Mayor Kasim Reed leads the rent-a-bike posse through downtown. Photo by Bob Andres

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The Transportation Mayor has pushed hard to make the Beltline, the pathway constructed on unused train lines, a rousing success. One can ride bikes (slowly) around the hordes of citizens walking dogs. And the Beltline drives development, which is Atlanta’s middle name.

He embraced the duty of world travel, as seen in a $90,000 trip by Team Kasim to South Africa this year, which included $10,000-$12,000 business class tickets.

In fact, The Mayor’s office budget went up from $18.8 million in fiscal year 2010 to $35.4 million in FY 2018, an 88 percent bump. This compares to a 20 percent increase in the general fund and a 22 percent bump in police department funding.

And perhaps his biggest coup is getting the Emory University campus and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to annex into Atlanta with the idea that those facilities might get hooked up to a light-rail line from MARTA. That one is thanks to a half-penny sales tax passed in 2016, one that is expected to raise $2.5 billion over 40 years. Reed pushed that one hard.

Now, the move did screw over neighboring DeKalb County’s school system with tax money and some ATL subterfuge. But big-time thinkers like The Mayor can’t worry about those who get run over.

It’s time to roll on. And please, continue to stay out of his way!