More than a year ago, when he was still Atlanta’s mayor and the feds were carting boxes of documents from City Hall, people would ask if I thought Kasim Reed would get indicted.
My answer was no, because he knew that an unindicted former mayor with a law degree was worth $500,000 a year on the open market from a silk-stocking law firm. Reed saw how his predecessor, Mayor Bill Campbell, himself a well-connected lawyer, got indicted on corruption charges and became a pariah once out of office.
So his route to financial success seemed simple. Do your job, enjoy the prestige of the office, survive on your salary of $147,500 and keep your nose clean. Riches will come to those who wait.
In late December 2017, Reed was leaving office and taking a victory lap. His hand-picked successor (Keisha Lance Bottoms) was to be installed in office, the city was on good financial footing, development was flourishing and his enemies had been smited. He was ready to go out there in the political/legal/business world and tear it up just like he’d been tearing it up in City Hall for his two terms.
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The sky was the limit. Here was a hyper-focused politician, consummate deal-maker, captivating orator and a pedigreed lawyer who employed a pugnacious relentlessness and a renowned work ethic. Further greatness beckoned.
And his next move? Do you hear the crickets chirping?
The whereabouts of Kasim Reed, who once was everywhere all the time, is now a parlor game in Atlanta circles. I wanted to determine where Atlanta’s Mystery Man is these days and what he is doing.
I didn’t have the wherewithal to distribute milk cartons with his photo, so I spoke with 13 people normally in the know: Atlanta politicians, those who worked for him at City Hall, lawyers from big firms, political consultants, communications people and FOKs (Friends of Kasim).
The investigation into pay-to-play corruption at City Hall has snagged several contractors and top mayoral aides. The investigation has spread and led to subpoenas of credit card statements and expense reports in Reed’s office going back to 2010.
Reed has vociferously denied any wrongdoing and it is uncertain where the 3-year-old investigation is going. He has sought legal advice from a noted criminal defense attorney amid the ongoing probe, people familiar with the matter told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News.
In a text, he said, “Bill, I am fine. The only thing I want from you, the AJC and Cox Media Group is to be left alone. You guys have fed off of me long enough. Thanks, Kasim.”
Hizzoner was referring to the constant drip, drip of stories during the past year from the AJC and WSB-TV, with headlines such as: Revelations mar former Atlanta mayor’s legacy. Reed, city concealed secret $147K payout to fired Atlanta airport boss. Reed withheld subpoena aimed at airport in Atlanta bribery probe. Ex-mayor Kasim Reed doles out $500K in bonuses, gifts on way out. Etc, etc, etc.
The stories and the investigation have certainly dulled his star — at least for now — and have no doubt left potential employers cautious and Reed seething.
“I think he’s really dissatisfied. I think he feels he didn’t do anything really wrong,” said former Mayor Andrew Young, who was a political mentor to a young Reed. “He had a number of job offers and they disappeared because of everything. For several months every front page was an investigation and expecting an indictment. (Potential employers) don’t want to get into that.”
One friend who has worked with Reed at City Hall said, “I am unaware that he is working anywhere formally,” adding that, “Kasim has figured out that he needs to lay low. There is such a thing as overexposure.”
The friend also said, “I’d be surprised and disheartened if the investigation reveals anything that (U.S. Attorney) B.J. Pak determines to be a federal crime against Kasim. But anytime FBI agents hold you by your ankles and shake you, who knows what falls out?”
Conversations with people who know Reed range from, “I really feel for the guy,” to a much more frequent, “You reap what you sow.”
The thought of Reed, with all his promise, holed up in a darkened living room watching Judge Judy in the afternoon and pondering his future is sort of a modern-day tragedy.
“For a lot of people (being out of office) is an adjustment. You’re the center of attention and then you’re not,” said former Mayor Shirley Franklin. “Maynard (Jackson, the city’s first black mayor) talked to me about it. He had a hard time getting a job. He told me people just move on, they think of you differently.”
Jackson’s story of leaving office and not getting a job from Atlanta’s white establishment is an oft-told cautionary tale of the danger of a black pol pushing too hard against the glass ceiling. But Reed was a friend of the developer and bonding agencies. And he ginned up lots of billable hours for local law firms. Seems like he’d be a shoo-in somewhere.
His intense drive and focus allowed him to push through controversial projects such as changing the employee retirement system, and he oversaw a city where crime rates dropped, development flourished and Atlanta kept a stellar bond rating.
But Reed was also defensive, secretive, bullying and gratuitously mean, traits that might put off some future employers, although they are prerequisites at some law firms.
The Rev. Timothy McDonald, former head of the Concerned Black Clergy, said he has not seen Reed for months. “That’s the talk of the town,” he said. “Where is Kasim?”
Reed was not out publicly stumping for Stacey Abrams in the recent governor’s race, an election of national importance. But that makes sense, said McDonald.
“Until the investigation is concluded, no one wants to be associated with that,” he said. “Stacey wouldn’t want Kasim within 10 miles of her because of that.”
McDonald, who was not a Reed fan, said, “No one’s feeling sorry for Kasim right now. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who feels that way. I haven’t found them.”
But, he added, “I will say don’t count him out. Once this is over and if he is cleared, he’ll be all over the place saying, ‘I told you so. I told you so.’”