Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed responds to a pointed question about the city's response to the snow storm during a press conference Wednesday, January 29, 2014 in the Governor's office at the State Capitol.
Photo: Ben Gray
Photo: Ben Gray

Reed, Deal battle national criticism with round of interviews on snowjam

A frustrated Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed struck a defiant tone in television appearances Thursday morning, battling criticism he was ill-prepared for Winter Storm Leon and calling out TV networks for broadcasting images of stranded drivers outside city limits.

Gov. Nathan Deal, also under fire for his response, hit the airwaves on Thursday in a much more tepid interview with FoxNews, whose sympathetic anchor praised him for apologizing for his role in the crisis. Deal replied that the “appropriate thing to do is apologize for the inconvenience.”

Reed’s appearances on The Today Show and MSNBC comes a day after NBC’s meteorologist Al Roker roundly criticized the mayor and Deal for what he called “poor planning” ahead of the well forecast storm which left untold thousands stranded in their cars on icy interstates and forced children to stay overnight in schools.

Both he and the governor have faced heavy criticism for everything from not heeding ominous forecasts to spending Tuesday morning at a number of public events, including a luncheon honoring Reed as Georgia Trend Magazine’s “2014 Georgian of the Year” as snow began to fall across the region.

Reed took pains to define his jurisdiction from that of the state and schools, noting his lack of control over interstates and school closings.

Asked by Matt Lauer whether he had the best information possible ahead of the storm, Reed said “It’s not solely about my call. In the city of Atlanta the state, myself and the school system which are all separate.”

Lauer also asked Reed about his Georgia Trend luncheon, to which Reed replied he had already ordered streets to be treated that morning.

In a post-Today Show interview with a WXIA reporter, Reed continued to draw clear delineations between his role and that of the state’s, being careful not to criticize his political ally Deal.

“I’d really appreciate if Al Roker and Channel 11 would differentiate between the responsibility of the city of Atlanta (and the state),” he said. “We do not have responsibility for the interstate.”

MSNBC’s Morning Joe anchor Mika Brzezinski pressed Reed to name names in a combative Thursday morning interview: “So who screwed up, mayor?”

Reed responded that “we all have responsibility” in government.

“I shared what I was responsible for. We should have made a different judgment about how we released our citizens as we got a million citizens out of our city,” said Reed.

The mayor expressed sympathy to drivers still stranded on highways and said: “We did everything we could in a partnering fashion to clear our highways and keep folks safe.”

To both networks, Reed repeated his now well-publicized admission that leaders failed by releasing millions into the storm at once.

“What is learned from this is that the state, city, school board and private business need to stagger a releasing of citizens to go home in severe weather events,” he said, elaborating that schools and parents should be sent home first.

He also touted what he sees as successes: all Atlanta Public Schools children are reunited with their families and more than 80 percent of Atlanta streets were clear after 24 hours.

But the recently re-elected mayor, his voice gravelly and fatigue wearing on his face, harshly criticized the networks on which he’s a regular guest as misleading in its use of images.

“I do want to clarify is the images that you show as you talked about Atlanta were often photos that were not in the city,” Reed said to Brzezinski.

That’s when the anchor threw in the towel, cutting the mayor off by saying “it’s just not helping you.”

Reed has made a round of network interviews in days since the storm hit the region, including this tense exchange with CNN’s Carol Costello Wednesday.

Deal, facing a re-election challenge against three rivals, was asked bluntly by the Fox anchor whether he bungled the response.

“I think we could have probably done a little bit better had we acted a bit early,” the governor said. “It’s always a guessing game.”

For updates, return to AJC.com.

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