In a convention big on mayors, Reed has small role

While Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has participated in a pair of media round-table events, he has not participated in any public events sponsored by either the Democratic National Committee or President Barack Obama’s campaign.

This, despite the convention city’s proximity to Atlanta and his previous very public role as an Obama surrogate on Sunday news programs and as host of high-profile fundraisers.

Yet, the first-time mayor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he feels no slight in his lack of a high-profile role.

“I’m a rookie mayor,” Reed said after being interviewed by NBC’s Chuck Todd for a panel dubbed “Conversations With the Next Generation.” “I did not seek an opportunity to speak.”

Reed said the decision to eliminate Monday’s convention session squeezed the schedule even more.

The mayor’s supporters in Georgia say his absence from the big stage inside Time Warner Arena is not a snub. Reed spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs said there is no conspiracy keeping Reed from addressing the thousands of Democratic delegates and pointed out that he is a member of the convention’s Rules Committee.

“Mayor Reed is in Charlotte supporting President Obama as he has always done,” Jacobs said.

But Reed’s ambivalence about party positions on gay marriage and gun ownership may have put him slightly out of synch with some of his colleagues who appeared on stage.

Reed, despite Obama’s May declaration of support for marriage equality, has said he is “still wrestling with my own personal beliefs on the issue of marriage.”

The party’s platform, approved here Tuesday, also calls for focusing on “effective enforcement of existing laws, especially strengthening our background check system,” but it also calls for “commonsense improvements — like reinstating the assault weapons ban and closing the gun show loophole — so that guns do not fall into the hands of those irresponsible, law-breaking few.”

In July, following the deadly shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, WABE-FM asked Reed specifically whether he would support those two provisions. Reed said while he agreed the mass shooting in Colorado should renew conversation about gun control, he stopped short of endorsing any particular plan.

But Reed pointed out that several of the mayors with speaking slots also lead national organizations, and all but one have served at least two terms. The one who has not: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff and a former congressman.

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is an obvious choice for a slot as leader of the host city. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Newark Mayor Cory Booker is co-chairman of the DNC’s Platform Committee. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback is chairman of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the convention chairman, and Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, in his second term in office, made history by being the first Latino to keynote a national convention.

“This context is very important; there’s no slight to anyone not speaking,” Jacobs said.

Reed said he’s not disappointed.

“There wasn’t an expectation except for my mom,” Reed said, “who is extremely frustrated.”

Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Mike Berlon said a podium appearance or not, the Obama administration has trusted Reed to be a regular surrogate on major Sunday news shows such as “Meet the Press.”

“I would look at it as spreading the wealth,” Berlon said. “I know the administration has a lot of confidence in Mayor Reed.”

The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee did not respond to requests for comment.

Reed is apparently the first Atlanta mayor since Bill Campbell in 2000 not to have a speaking role at a Democratic convention. Campbell, however, spoke at the 1996 convention in Chicago, when he seconded the nomination of Al Gore for vice president.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who was chairwoman of the Democrats’ 2008 national convention, and spoke from the podium in both 2004 and 2008, said there is tremendous pressure on organizers to award speaking slots.

“It’s a tough crowd to compete with for attention and position, and all are great speakers and campaigners,” she said.

Georgia, however, will still be represented this week. U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta is scheduled to address delegates Thursday.

Georgia delegate Paul Bronson of Macon, a 10-year Army veteran, likened it to a military decision.

“Sometimes you don’t need your generals to fight all the time,” he said. “You’re supporting the troops that are. The biggest thing I’ve learned as an officer is to be seen and not heard.”

Reed is doing both here. While he lacks a spot in a DNC-backed event, he carried on in his role as a warrior for the Obama cause.

During a round-table discussion Wednesday morning for PBS’ “NewsHour,” Reed defended Obama’s record and took on the Republican ticket, specifically targeting vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

“You can’t call this person who brought the country back from a great depression, and call him an abysmal failure,” Reed said. “I’m going to say he’s doing a great job. I’m going to say your guy [Ryan] passed two bills in his entire career.”

Reed also got some party love from Tacoma, Wash., Mayor Marilyn Strickland.

“Mayor Reed is my favorite surrogate,” she said. “On ‘Meet the Press’ he does such a good job.”

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.