OPINION: Hizzoner, the sequel? Can’t ignore talk of a Kasim Reed redux

Then-Mayor Kasim Reed at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon on February 28, 2017. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)
Then-Mayor Kasim Reed at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon on February 28, 2017. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)

For more than two months, a juicy and outlandish rumor has worked its way through Atlanta’s political class: That former mayor Kasim Reed is thinking about running for his old job.

I heard it in December, in January and again in February. Of course, I discounted it, as any reasonably well-adjusted person should do. Why would a savvy politician who served two terms at the helm of the city, who campaigned fiercely — and successfully — to get his preferred successor (Keisha Lance Bottoms) elected to office, then try to uproot that same person from the job?

It doesn’t make sense, does it?

Still, I did say we’re talking about Kasim Reed, a man whose consideration of his own brilliance knows no bounds.

I wasn’t going to delve into this conjecture, but my attitude changed after Matthew Cardinale, an activist and City Hall pest who edits the Atlanta Progressive News, wrote a story about getting an interesting phone call, one that seemed to be a push poll asking questions about Kasim Reed.

It is unclear who was behind this questionnaire, but a push poll involves a method of asking certain questions in a way to favor an outcome.

Cardinale took note of the questions. The poll taker asked whether Bottoms was doing a good job, then asked if Reed should take a shot at the office. Then the pollster asked Cardinale who he would support in a Keisha/Kasim matchup.

The questions soon meandered into the push poll category, asking whether the voter would want a mayoral candidate who is a “national partisan (on) political issues and is a warrior on social justice?” Or would the voter like a candidate who is interested in “local nonpartisan issues that has a plan to address crime, education, and jobs.”

Of course, crime and jobs are the key issues in Atlanta these days, with crime being underlined.

Beating down crime was always Reed’s primary issue. He campaigned for office in 2009 saying he would take a “muscular” approach to crime. Then he got elected and took a muscular approach to everything.

Then-Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta's then-Police Chief George Turner stand outside the Georgia Governor’s Mansion on July 11, 2016, meeting with protesters during a night of demonstrations. (Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com)
Then-Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta's then-Police Chief George Turner stand outside the Georgia Governor’s Mansion on July 11, 2016, meeting with protesters during a night of demonstrations. (Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Now, Reed himself didn’t respond to me for this story. Actually, he rarely responded to me even back when he was in office, except when having city-paid minions write his harangues.

But you know the former mayor, an ambitious fellow, desperately misses the action. Here he’s had to lay low and watch a historic and chaotic election in which political newcomers like Raphael Warnock got voted into the U.S. Senate and Nikema Williams got the late John Lewis’ seat in Congress. He has also watched Stacey Abrams become a kingmaker and the nationally renowned Darling of the Dems. Abrams was a relative newcomer in the state Legislature back when Reed was leaving it for bigger things.

Reed has been quiet politically, one would assume, because of a long and winding federal investigation into bribery and corruption at Atlanta City Hall. The feds have looked through the former mayor’s spending records but have not said if they’re targeting him, other than the former U.S. attorney saying, “The ethics and culture of an organization start from the top.”

Reed has insisted he did nothing wrong.

But still, it must smart to watch all this from the sidelines. In early 2017, as the race to replace him for mayor heated up, Reed prognosticated out loud at a luncheon about how he’d fare against that year’s candidates.

“Not one of them could beat me,” he said with all the humility he could muster. “You might not like me saying that, but the public likes it.”

Then he supported Bottoms, a city councilwoman at the time, and acted as a verbal battering ram against her opponents.

Bottoms has indicated that she’s running again this year, and sitting mayors in Atlanta are almost unbeatable, although crime could be her Achilles’ heel. Homicides and other violent crimes were way up last year and are again this year. Bottoms is being opposed by City Council President Felicia Moore.

And now there’s a poll asking about Kasim and crime, crime, crime.

At the same time that poll circulated, Reed posted on his Facebook site a short clip from a recent interview on a podcast with businessman Cassius Butts. Reed talked about his main achievement in office. Guess what it was?

We made the city the safest it’s been in 40 years,” he said. “So your environment matters. Your safety and environment makes everything, well, it is the fundamental element that makes business grow, makes families grow. It influences the dynamic of the city.”

I called around asking about the crazy notion of Candidate Kasim.

Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mayor Kasim Reed. (Kevin D. Liles/The New York Times)
Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mayor Kasim Reed. (Kevin D. Liles/The New York Times)

Councilman Michael Bond, who said he is a “longtime friend and supporter” of Bottoms, said he saw Reed a couple of months ago and the subject of running didn’t come up.

Would he have any shot?

“I don’t know,” Bond responded. “He was tough on crime, and crime is the prevailing issue today.”

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who was a political mentor to Reed, does not think he will run again. First, “I think anyone running against (Bottoms) would have a hard time,” Young said. And second, “He (Reed) has taken himself into private business and I think that’s where he will remain. The real action is in the economy, not politics.”

In the podcast, Reed answered the question regarding what he’s been up to: He has invested in a security tech firm; is on the board of the new, wildly popular Slutty Vegan restaurant chain; is an adviser to a bank; and is working with a telemedicine startup called Jetdoc.com, a venture that includes rapper and music entrepreneur Rick Ross.

Tom Houck, a former radio host who talks to Reed, said, “Kasim is having fun, I think, at the expense of Keisha.”

I don’t know if there is any beef between the two, although the relationship between Reed and Shirley Franklin, who preceded him in office, went sideways because he criticized Atlanta’s pre-Reed condition.

Houck said numerous folks have asked him about Reed’s candidacy in the past week. “I don’t think Kasim is going to run though, and I say that with a laugh.” He added that Bottoms “has to worry about crime and other things that people don’t think she’s paid enough attention to. Kasim was a hands-on mayor.”

You certainly knew he was mayor. Couldn’t miss it, even if you wanted to. Bottoms has been criticized for not being much of a presence in the day-to-day matters, although she campaigned early and hard for Joe Biden and was often on national news shows debating Governor Shotgun’s COVID-19 response.

Mark Rountree, a veteran political consultant, pollster and owner of Landmark Communications, does not think Reed is behind the poll.

“He was the mayor, so it’s hard to believe he’d be in a cheesy push poll,” Rountree said. “Maybe someone is trying to push him into running, to show him that he has a path in this.”

Bottoms simply told me she has “no idea” about any of this.

And Felicia Moore, Bottoms’ opponent and also Reed’s longtime sworn adversary, called the idea “kinda far-fetched.”

“But who knows? Anything can happen in politics,” she said.

And these days, just about anything does happen in politics.

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