OPINION: Why Shirley Franklin votes NO! on a Kasim Reed return as mayor

Atlanta's then-mayor Shirley Franklin (center) enjoys the Atlanta Hawks home opener at Philips Arena on November 8, 2005, while seated next to former mayor Andrew Young (left) and then-state-senator Kasim Reed, who served as Franklin's campaign manager. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC file)

Credit: George Mathis

Credit: George Mathis

Atlanta's then-mayor Shirley Franklin (center) enjoys the Atlanta Hawks home opener at Philips Arena on November 8, 2005, while seated next to former mayor Andrew Young (left) and then-state-senator Kasim Reed, who served as Franklin's campaign manager. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC file)

For months, it’s been clear that former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has no use for former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed as he seeks a return to that office.

But a recent post on Instagram — amid her usual pictures of flowers and deer feasting in her yard — raised eyebrows and showed she really, really thinks Reed would be a bad choice for the city.

Franklin posted an adorable photo of her resting her head on the shoulder of her longtime friend and mentor Andrew Young — the civil rights legend, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and former mayor of Atlanta.

Then Franklin launched into a major league takedown of Reed, who has Young’s full support in this year’s mayoral race.

Franklin started her post by saying she loves Young like a kindly uncle. But even the kindliest of uncles can get things wrong — or at least they can see things far differently. She noted she supported then-newcomer Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary while Young backed Hillary Clinton.

Young, she wrote, “supports Reed who did not perform as an ethical leader or effective leader of Atlanta, no matter how many times Reed or Young say it.”

“Reed acted like a bully,” Franklin wrote. “He threatened staff and anyone who differed with him. Just as he did in the WSB-TV debate tonight. Reed promoted division and tension within city government and across the city and still does with his Papa Doc style of leadership.”

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin posted this photo on Instagram with her mentor, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, before excoriating Kasim Reed, who is running for his (and their) old job of mayor.

Credit: Shirley Franklin

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Credit: Shirley Franklin

Now, I think comparing Reed to Haiti’s former dictator Francois Duvalier (1957-1971) is a bit much. Reed did not delve in voodoo during his two terms, nor did he have death squads. He merely had security teams in SUVs with flashing blue lights screaming around the city.

Franklin laughed when I asked about Papa Doc.

“It’s an old-school reference. I don’t know if the young people now would get it,” she told me. She said she had enough while watching the mayoral debate and wanted to be clear about where she stood.

“Most people don’t like the bullying, that my-way-or-the-highway,” she said. “They don’t like the bonuses (to Reed’s staff on his way out of office); they don’t like the abuse of power.”

Reed’s supporters say Franklin’s caustic view of Hizzoner goes beyond politics and is personal. And they may have a point.

Franklin is a historic figure in Atlanta, the city’s first female mayor. She came to office in 2002 after another administration that was rife with corruption, and Franklin had to make tough choices during her two terms. There was a tax increase early on, and then a huge hike in water bills to rebuild the system’s rotting sewer system. Later, the Great Recession hit and the city was reeling financially, causing another tax increase.

After Reed took office in 2010, his narrative was that he inherited a city driven into the ditch, so he had to get his tow truck, drag the vehicle out, and then send it to his body shop to pound out the dents. Naturally, Franklin, a proud person, didn’t like that. Nor was what Reed said the truth, she says.

“I made tough decisions. I laid people off, I raised taxes,” Franklin told me. She then referred to the $200 million reserve fund Reed likes to say was created during his reign. He also likes to brag he didn’t raise taxes.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin makes a rare appearance to endorse Andre Dickens (left) for City Council at the Atlanta Beltline on Oct. 15, 2013, in Atlanta.


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“Of course he didn’t do a tax increase. I did it in 2009,” she said. “That tax increase brought in an extra $400 million. Not a dime of that reserve fund did he raise. Not a dime!”

Until recently, Franklin was clear about who she didn’t want, posting the hashtag #anybodybutkasimreed several times. But she recently stepped forward to endorse Councilman Andre Dickens, saying he’s a fresh face “who brings a forward vision to Atlanta.”

Young, a two-term mayor in the 1980s, is not surprised that he and Franklin diverged on this mayoral race. “Shirley and I didn’t agree when she worked for me,” he said. Back then, Franklin was Young’s right hand and often ran the city when he was out of town trying to snag the Olympics.

So, why is Franklin so down on Kasim? I asked.

“That’s between her and her pastor or her psychiatrist,” Young said.

Young said his support of Reed is personal. He met a young Kasim when he was a student at Howard University and liked his drive and knowledge. He still does. “The kind of things this city needs now, most of the people running have never heard of,” he said. “I always knew I was going to support him.”

Almost everyone interviewed in a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll on the mayor’s race said they knew Kasim Reed, but just 23% said they were going to vote for him. (City Council president Felicia Moore got 20%, while “Undecided” was the leader with 41%. In fact, Reed had an unfavorable rating of 44%, compared to 34% who favor him.)

That, too, does not surprise Young. “It’s hard to be mayor. You make a lot of people mad,” he said. “I got sued for every decision I made.”

Now, the federal pen will seemingly need its own Atlanta City Hall wing. Reed has not been charged with anything, and I’ve long said I don’t think he was stupid enough to engage in such conduct. But the frequent indictments and convictions of high-level staffers looks terrible. How did Reed not know what was going on?

Young waves off the political charges about corruption that occurred during Reed’s two terms.

Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed accepts an endorsement from the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 134 at Reed's campaign headquarters on Oct. 7, 2021.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

“Everyone is looking for corruption; that’s stupid. Every other city in America has more corruption,” he said.

Ultimately, Young said, the other candidates don’t stack up to Reed. Besides, he added, “It’s his turn to be mayor.”

Funny, but Kasim seems to already have had a turn.

But the esteemed ambassador’s last statement is telling. Since the 1973 election of Maynard Jackson, the first Black mayor of Atlanta, there has been sort of a continuity, almost an eventuality, to who’d get seated next. There was Jackson. Then Young. Then Jackson again. Then Bill Campbell, who was supported by Jackson. Then Franklin, who got the nod from both Jackson and Young. Then Reed, who was Franklin’s campaign manager. And finally, Keisha Lance Bottoms, who was supported vociferously by Reed.

Derrick Boazman, a former city councilman who has a radio show on 1380AM, said that Moore or even Dickens, who are both Black, would be a “break” in that cycle. So would candidate Sharon Gay, who is white. And certainly Antonio Brown, an activist councilman, who is also under federal indictment.

“That break comes with Felicia, who has been fiercely independent of any mayor,” Boazman said. “She’s been so independent, that she comes across as a solo rider.”

The Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum was centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and took place in two parts on Oct. 6, 2021. Candidates in the first set of questions, shown here from left: Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, Councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, Council President Felicia Moore, and former Mayor Kasim Reed. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

Boazman said he thinks Reed is running “because he needs to be vindicated. Kasim Reed is 51 or 52. He should be at the highest earning potential of his career. Any of the big firms would like to have a former mayor on the shingle. But he cannot do that because of the investigation hanging over his head.”

I checked in with Reed, who says little publicly about Franklin, knowing she is still respected by potential voters. Opening his mouth about her would cause his already low likability numbers to drop.

“Ambassador Young has always held an important role in my life and continues to serve as a role model to me today,” he said in a statement. “He is an exemplar who combines the strength of leadership and vision but always balances it with compassion and care for other people. He is one of the best men I have ever known and I am honored that he has, once again, endorsed my candidacy for Mayor.”

“I honor Shirley Franklin’s commitment and service to the City of Atlanta,” Reed said in the statement. “I wish her well.”

At least he didn’t say, “Bless her heart.”