By Maria Saporta
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed did not mention to members of the Kiwanis Club of Atlanta on Tuesday that he is running for re-election this year.
But he did make sure to honor a decades-long tradition Tuesday of being the first speaker each year to address the Atlanta Kiwanis.
On Jan. 5, 2010, Reed continued the tradition set by his predecessors, speaking to the group only one day after being inaugurated. And he has followed suit this year.
But his talk on Tuesday was slightly different than previous years. Instead of going through a long list of accomplishments and plans, Reed just highlighted a few areas — increasing the city’s cash reserves from $7.4 million to $126 million; having been able to secure $200 million in grants from the federal government; working with Gov. Nathan Deal on efforts to deepen the Port of Savannah. reopening all the city’s recreation centers and being able to reduce the city’s pension costs.
The mayor also acknowledged one area that had fallen short.
“What the governor and I have decided to do is to work on what we agree on and put the rest aside,” Reed said. “We worked real hard to pass the transportation referendum, but we failed. We listed to our voters. But that does not mean we have to turn away from having to solve the transportation infrastructure in our state.”
Mostly, Reed used his platform to thank members of Kiwanis and the larger Atlanta community for working with the city through the tough times.
“We have to move to a place in the City of Atlanta where just surviving is not enough,” said Reed, adding that the Atlantans have an obligation to “help those who are most in need.”
The only time Reed indirectly referred to his re-election was when he said: “I have loved every minute of being mayor, and I’m going to keep on being your mayor.”
Actually the mayor is running for re-election this year, but so far there has been little mention of any one running against him. And when the mayor answered questions from Kiwanis, it was clear he intends to continue being mayor for another four years.
Reed was asked about his top three priorities for 2013.
First, Reed said it would be to continue to reduce crime and to finally reach the goal of having 2,000 police officers in the City of Atlanta.
Second, Reed said he wanted to continue strengthening the city’s financial position. “In 2014, we need to go to the markets for a major bond issue of $250 million to $300 million,” Reed said, adding that the city currently has a $922 million backlog in infrastructure needs.
Third, Reed said he plans to seek help from Washington, D.C. and President Barack Obama’s administration.
“I’m going to be securing money for major infrastructure projects using my relationships with Washington, D.C.,” Reed said. In addition to seeking federal funds for the deepening of the Savannah Port, Reed said his personal dream would be to secure money for high-speed rail between Atlanta and Savannah — mentioning that latest technology would be able to make that trip in 75 minutes.
“The State of Georgia would never be the same,” Reed said. “The only real criticism of Atlanta is that Atlanta doesn’t have an ocean. If Atlanta had an ocean….”
Then Reed shared a clue of how Georgia might be able to get a high-speed rail line. Several states have rejected federal high-speed rail grants. “I intend to compete for those,” Reed said.
Asked about a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons, Reed said that “the way the stadium is funding is an opportunity that’s not going to come again.”
Saying that the Georgia Dome might have a shelf-life of another 15 or 20 years, Reed said there is no telling who might own the Falcons in two decades. Currently Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has said he would be willing to cover $700 million of the cost of a $1 billion stadium with $300 million coming from the hotel-motel tax.
Reed said he could not envision that another Falcons owner would be willing to pay 70 percent of the cost of a new facility, which he or she wouldn’t even own. The state would own the new stadium.
Reed also was asked about Atlanta’s public schools, and he repeated his intention to be actively involved in the recruitment of the best superintendent that Atlanta can get. “Now we’ve got a 24-month window to get the best,” Reed said about the contract extension for APS Superintendent Erroll Davis.
The last question was when would Atlanta synchronize its traffic lights. Reed said that traffic signalization would be part of the city’s proposed infrastructure bond package, and it is estimated that it would cost between $40 million and $70 million for the most up-to-date system.