Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed reaches out to Georgia leaders, linking future of city and state

It is a pleasure to watch Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s courtship with leaders from around the state.

As a former state senator and representative, this is familiar territory for Reed. But since he’s become mayor, he has perfected the message — as goes Atlanta, so goes Georgia; and as goes Georgia, so goes Atlanta.

The latest venue for Reed’s deepening relationship with state leaders was at the quarterly board meeting of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, held on March 31 on the Georgia Tech campus.

Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson welcomed Reed and the board — which that day was composed of all white males (most from outside metro Atlanta: 15 out of 22). In all fairness, the board does have one woman and one African-American — Harriette Watkins of Fairburn — but she was not present.

But Reed, an African-American mayor, did not seem to notice. Instead, he started off by saying: “We really have special people in this state.” He then went on to mention House Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Gov. Nathan Deal and former Gov. Sonny Perdue.

(Unfortunately, the mayor has not been quite as generous when it comes to a few of Atlanta’s top leaders, but more on that later).

In talking to state leaders, Reed made the case for why metro Atlanta is so vital to the state’s economic interests. The metro area is becoming one of the eight megaregions in the country. And it is a region where “we’ve had strong leadership and a very good partnership” for many years, culminating with the 1996 Summer Olympic Games when “we left other folks in the dust,” Reed said.

For decades, other cities, such as Dallas and Charlotte, have compared themselves to Atlanta, which has enjoyed the reputation of being the capital of the Southeast.

But now, those cities combined with Nashville and other Southern cities, are quick to point to metro Atlanta’s weaknesses, including the lack of coordination between the state and its capital city.

“Atlanta was the economic generator,” Reed said. “Political control was deployed outside of I-285. There were thee intramural games, back and forth, rural folks and urban folks. I really don’t think we can afford that anymore. We aren’t doing so well, leading so well to allow folks to play these games.”

Reed said he has built a bridge between City Hall and the State Capitol, which are located diagonally across the street from each other.

“What I want you to know is that you have a partner that’s willing and able,” Reed said. “You have a mayor who believes in regionalism.”

Then Reed held up the City of Denver as a model for the Atlanta region. The seven-county metro Denver area has found a way to work together in paying for transportation, arts and culture as well as sports facilities.

“If anything positive happens in the region, it’s good for the region and the state,” Reed said. “They’ve done this for transportation and light rail, and they’re doing it with the arts.”

The regional transportation sales tax could be part of “Georgia’s second act,” Reed said. “Having the leading airport on planet earth makes you strong. No matter where you are in the state of Georgia, folks have got to be able to get to you.”

But Reed then said “we have aged a bit,” and we’ll have to work harder to remain competitive.

“The relationship that we are trying to build is special,” Reed said. “I spend a lot of time trying to deliver for the Georgia Ports. We have a Democratic president, a Democratic administration and Democrat U.S. Senate.”

So the fact that he is a Democrat, Reed said he can reach out to federal leaders in a way that the Republican leaders in Georgia can not.

“The reason I’m going to stay with trying to get money for the Savannah Port, I believe it will create a second dynamic center in the state of Georgia that’s unparalleled,” Reed said. “Having a second dynamic center that’s equal to Hartsfield is all about Atlanta…. When we are done, our region is going to be the logistics hub for the Western hemisphere.”

If Atlanta and Georgia “can do it in a fashion where we are real partners, there’s no peer in the Southeast that will be able to keep up with us,” Reed said. “The future is having the two dynamos — the State of Georgia and the City of Atlanta — working together. I’m ready to play. Anyone who wins by 714 votes you know loves to compete.”

Reed also said that Atlanta is in a fiscal position to help the state sweeten economic development incentives when a company is considering investing in the city.

He then repeated one of his favorite refrains. When he took office, the city only had $7.5 million in reserves. Today, it has $58 million in reserves, and Reed projects it will have $77 million in the next fiscal year.

Reed said he’s been able to build those reserves, hire more police officers and invest in the Centers for Hope — all without a tax increase.

But that storyline is disingenuous. What the mayor fails to mention is that the reason the city’s financial picture is so strong is because his predecessor — former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin — led the difficult fight to pass a needed property tax increase six months before he took office.

By the way, Franklin also reached out to regional leaders — building unprecedented relations between the city and suburbs — while she was mayor.

As impressed as I am with Reed, his inability to share credit with his mentor and thank her for nurturing his political career is disappointing. He actually would be viewed as a stronger leader if he could give credit where credit is due.

Where Reed undeniably has been breaking new ground has been in building a strong relationship between the city and the state — strongest in decades.

And Reed is strategic in his message. He tells state leaders that Atlanta has been able to receive $134 million in “direct federal appropriations” since he’s been mayor.

“We are going to extend those relations statewide,” Reed told board members of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “I believe the future — our winning — is tied inextricably to Atlanta and Georgia. At some point, people are going to be writing about us and how well we have managed through times that stink.”

If Reed can get the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia working in concert with each other, he really will have changed the economic and political equation for all of us.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

17 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    It’s not surprising that Mayor Reed won’t give credit to his predecessor. It further clarifies that he views himself as a poltician on the way up the ladder and the mayorship is just one more step. Once he gets his next opportunity he will pursue it, regardless of mayoral duties.

    It’s entertaining to watch him brag about having $58million in reserves while listening to him groan about having $1.5billion in unfunded pension liabilities. It’s like me bragging that I have $387 in my checking account while I have a $10,000 federal income tax payment due on April 18 that I cannot pay.

    Over the past 15 years the role of the City of Atlanta in the metro Atlanta region has greatly reduced and I for one see no change in that direction.Report

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  2. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights..... says:

    “Reed said he’s been able to build those reserves, hire more police officers and invest in the Centers for Hope — all without a tax increase.”

    “But that storyline is disingenuous. What the mayor fails to mention is that the reason the city’s financial picture is so strong is because his predecessor — former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin — led the difficult fight to pass a needed property tax increase six months before he took office.”

    Do you really think that it would be smart of Reed to mention the terms “Shirley Franklin”, “tax increase” & “$1.5 billion in unfunded pension liabilities” in a room full of conservative white male business leaders from outside the Perimeter whom he is trying so desperately to forge a relationship & closely work with? When you’re trying to get people to work with you, the idea is to tell those people all of the reasons why they should and need to work with you, NOT all the reasons why they should avoid you like the plague! Bringing up a tax increase by a successor who is perceived to be a very far-left politician isn’t exactly a conversation starter in a room full of conservative Republican business leaders amongst whom the phrases “tax increase” and “black female liberal from the Northeast who’s thought to be gay” go over about as well as a lead balloon.

    Shirley Franklin did a lot of good things while in office that helped the city out tremendously in a number of ways, but let’s face it, for all of the good she might have done for the city, she didn’t exactly leave office with the highest regards of conservatives at the very end, especially at the state level where she seemed to become somewhat of a polarizing figure in her second term. As unfair and as disingenuous it may seem to be to some, it’s probably best that Reed not bring up the tax increase by Shirley Franklin when as he tries to strengthen a critical working relationship between a liberal city government and a conservative state government. Even though Shirley Franklin may be a mentor of Reed, remember in politics it’s only business, not personal.Report

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  3. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights..... says:

    Burroughston Broch says:
    April 4, 2011 at 11:41 am
    “It’s entertaining to watch him brag about having $58million in reserves while listening to him groan about having $1.5billion in unfunded pension liabilities. It’s like me bragging that I have $387 in my checking account while I have a $10,000 federal income tax payment due on April 18 that I cannot pay.”

    You, too!? I have a $10,000 income tax payment due as well….only without the $387 to brag about…It seems that I finally have something in common with the City of Atlanta after all!

    “Over the past 15 years the role of the City of Atlanta in the metro Atlanta region has greatly reduced and I for one see no change in that direction.”

    The only way that may change is if parts of the urban core including the current City of Atlanta and the unincorporated parts of Central & South Fulton County, DeKalb County, Clayton County and MAYBE even unincorporated Gwinnett County join together to form a limited metropolitan government. The selling point to those outside of the current city limits of Atlanta to form a metropolitan government would be getting or obtaining VERY local control over their planning and zoning in the form of townships if they so choose while retaining local control over public safety and schools by keeping their county police departments, fire departments, sheriff’s departments, jails and county and city school districts intact and obtaining the very big advantage of getting the right to vote for mayor of the expanded, yet limited Metro Atlanta city government. It would kind of make sense if more of the metro area, MAYBE even residents in already separately incorporated cities in that four county area, got to have a say in the selection of the leadership of the city government that affects the direction of the entire metro area and North Georgia region. Also, as the population of the five-county core of the metro area continues to increase in overall number and in density, it makes less and less sense for such a large number of people to be living in highly-urbanized unincorporated areas with decreasing representation in local municipalities that seem designed or intended to govern communities that were of a far more suburban or even exurban nature (see Gwinnett County with only one full-time & four part-time commissioners serving a very urban & increasingly dense county of over 800,000). I’m not saying that a metropolitan government is the way that the metro area should go, but it’s something to keep in mind as areas that were once sparcely populated rural, exurban & suburban areas make a rapid transition into being densely-populated urban areas.

    As we’re seeing more and more, the service needs of exurban areas and urban areas are dramatically different. Public safety and code enforcement may be mere afterthoughts in less-dense exurban areas where household with more affluent incomes may be prevalent, especially with strong homeowners associations looking to keep property values up. but in densely-populated urban areas an increased police presence and code enforcement can be key to keeping a neighborhood very heavy with renters and second, third or fourth generation homeowners from spiraling out-of-control. I’m just sayin’….Report

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  4. shirley says:

    Cheers to Mayor Reed! I learned from my parents and grandparents six decades ago that every generation can and should chart a better course and reach higher heights of success.Report

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  5. MDR says:

    The same mentality that caused Georgia to have more counties than any other state, previously 160 – is the same mentality this state still has.. Georgia will never operate at full potential, because there are so many underlining objectives by the far to many government agencies, counties, and citizens. It is funny to me, on the radio I hear – to much govenment, to much government – yet the same supporters of “to much govenment” are the same ones that want to go on and form new cities and bring 160 back. Is there anyone out there that can educate me to why when Marta was created, only two counties participated? The answer to that question, is the same answer to why it’s so hard to get the region and the state to work together. Good luck Mayor, you will need it.Report

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  6. mc says:

    Methinks the mayor gets alot of credit for just doing “just what is suppose to be done” “the right thing” because so many things were not done in past administrations. Time will tell. There is alot of praise and glory being thrown his way, especially by this publication. It seems this paper serves as pr for Atlanta and the Mayor, not as a newsource.

    I for one want to see some results. As a gay male in one of the Gayest Mecca’s we have a mayor who does not support equal amrriage rights, that is wrong. His excuse: his religion. What happened to separation of Church and State? he is using the offie as a platform for a bigger office that is all. When will we get a mayor who really only wants to be that just the Mayor.

    I think it is good to be constructive and critical at the same time. I am dissapointed Mary Norwood doesn’t have a greater role at City hall. She was held down by Franklin and now Reed. It is not right. Reed is not our savior, he is just another african american mayor…in a line of several.Report

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  7. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights..... says:

    In response to MDR @ April 7, 2011 at 12:32 pm
    “Is there anyone out there that can educate me to why when Marta was created, only two counties participated?”

    Mainly irrational fears of public transportation bringing more of “those people” and more crime to then-suburban, exurban & rural areas because overdevelopment, people & automobiles have done a pretty good job of bringing crime to those areas all on their own without the help of trains and buses. One also has to remember that back when Marta was created over 40 years ago, only two counties (Fulton and DeKalb) in the metro area were what you could really call “urbanized” as Greater Metro Atlanta was MUCH smaller and MUCH less populated with only four counties and 1.5 million people (over FOUR MILLION fewer residents than today!). Circa-1970, I-285 had just been recently completed and was only four lanes, DeKalb County was still primarily suburban in nature, Cobb County was still considered to be a far-out exurban community that had just recently started seeing new & increased development (Cumberland Mall hadn’t even opened yet), Clayton County was a hot new suburban bedroom community that was predominantly white and attractive to primarily to airline & airport employees because of it’s closeness to the airport while Gwinnett County had only 70,000 people, was almost still overwhelmingly rural and considered by most Atlantans to be too far-flung away from the city to even consider moving to or doing business in & wasn’t even officially considered to be apart of the greater metro area until the 1970 Census.

    The world in which MARTA was created was a MUCH, MUCH different world from what we know today. Also keep in mind that at the time that MARTA was created, the growth into a major international city & air logistics hub that Metro Atlanta eventually became was still nothing more than a pipe dream at best. In 1969 Atlanta, desegregation between blacks & whites alone was still very new and illegal immigration and the 21st Century-style diversity that has come to be a staple of the metro area was literally unheard of then. Considering that the murder rate was much higher at the time (there were something like 271 murders just inside the Atlanta city limits alone in 1971) and that Metro Atlanta was much smaller and only a fraction of it’s current size, MARTA did pretty remarkably well to serve the two-county area that it did for many years and was considered one of the best public transportation systems in North America up until the time of the Olympics.

    Basically only two counties participated in MARTA at the time because of fears of crime being brought to suburban areas and there being thought to be no need for public transit in areas that were sparcely populated & still very much ranged from being rural to exurban development & community-wise. With the overwhelming crush of population growth into becoming key parts of the urban core and the suffocating traffic on a very inadequate and road network based on ancient Indian trails that has come with that growth, Clayton, Gwinnett & Cobb are very much considering joining with Fulton & DeKalb Counties to form a NEW regional transit authority that would succeed MARTA which has an overall poor public perception. It’s just that a flawed legislative process, lack of any real leadership on the issue at the state, regional & local levels and different governing priorities in different municipalities and government agencies have prevented and still continue to prevent that from coming to together.

    MARTA was still considered to be a pretty comprehensive transit system through the mid-1990s, about the same time that the locals and the state stopped making meaningful widespread investments in infrastructure while the population started growing in an almost upward arc as the population of the metro area grew by about two million people from just after the Olympics until the start of this economic downturn in about 2007-08. I guess that the powers that be thought that they had accomplished everything that there was to accomplish at the time after the Olympics were over and that any need for further planning and investment in infrastructure became either not as necessary or wasn’t seen as urgent as it was in the buildup to the mega event in the 1996 Olympics and as we all can visibly see, it shows, big time!Report

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  8. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ MDR
    I suggest that you check your facts. Texas has 274 counties.

    Georgia has 159 now and will have 160 once the General Assembly in its wisdom re-establishes Milton County, freeing the cities in present north Fulton County from being the cash cow for south Fulton County and the Fulton County government bureaucracy.Report

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  9. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ mc

    You hit the nail on the head. Mayor Reed is focused on his next step up the ladder.

    He doesn’t want Mary Norwood in the limelight because his luminance might pale a bit. Very different than President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton.Report

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  10. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights…..

    You neglected to mention that other metro counties had the opportunity to join MARTA and voted against it. You also neglected to mention that the primary purpose of MARTA was to provide quick access to Rich’s downtown store, Dick Rich being intimately involved in the planning.Report

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  11. HistoryJoe says:

    @Burroughston Broch

    For 50 years money and infrastructure flowed from Atlanta into the former Milton County. Do you know how many paved roads were there before Fulton saved it from bankruptcy? Do you know how many schools they had? Do you know how many parks they had? 3, 2, 1Report

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  12. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ HistoryJoe

    You should get your facts straight and look farther than the end of your nose.

    Fulton County didn’t save Milton County from bankruptcy, the General Assembly did. In 1931 the General Assembly combined Campbell County (to save money) and Milton County (to avoid bankruptcy) into Fulton County. The Roswell district of Cobb County was made part of Fulton County as part of the deal. Atlanta had no part in it.

    Assuming that your figures are correct, there was a net cash inflow from 1931 until 1981. In the 30 years since 1981 the net cash flow has massively reversed. The population of Fulton County was 589,000 in 1980 (of which Atlanta was 425,000) and 920,000 in 2010 (of which Atlanta was 420,000). So, outside of Atlanta, there were 164,000 people in 1980 and 500,000 people in 2010. The population growth has been in the former Milton County and not in the remainder of Fulton County.

    The people in the former Milton County are fed up with being milked to support South Fulton County and the Fulton County bureaucracy.Report

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  13. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights..... says:

    @ Burroughston Broch, April 8, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Well, I only have so much time & space to give a brief history lesson on MARTA so I can’t include it ALL! Despite the commonly held perception that MARTA was rejected in Cobb, Fulton & Clayton strictly on suburban whites’ racist fears of inner-city blacks, the reasons why MARTA was rejected in those three outlying counties were much more complex than just racist fears alone. Though there’s no denying that racist fears did play a big part of why MARTA was shunned in those OTP communities, there has been at least a little more to it than that over the years, but times have changed, A LOT!

    Atlanta has grown from a much-smaller, much more provincial city that was once stretched no farther than the I-285 Perimeter to an up-and-coming international city and major metro area that has violently spilled out of its original two counties (Fulton & DeKalb) and now stretches over almost 30 counties in North Georgia. When Cobb, Clayton & Gwinnett voted against joining MARTA in the past they what you could consider to be alot more suburban and even exurban in many respects. Now those communities are ALOT more urban in nature and experience many of the same, if not worse problems in some cases (see Gwinnett’s emerging problems with Latin American drug cartels and international organized crime) that residents in those counties feared would only come with a direct connection to the city via MARTA (I guess they forgot about the AUTOMOBILE, lol!).Report

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  14. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights..... says:

    @ Burroughston Broch, April 10, 2011 at 11:41 am

    The way that North Fulton has to financially support other parts of Fulton County isn’t much different from how North Georgia has to often financially support the rest of the state. I can’t much argue against people in North Fulton wanting to break off from Fulton and create their own county in the erstwhile Milton County because it’s not like Fulton County is the model of efficient and sane governance. Good luck with getting the Georgia General Assembly to approve the process to recreate Milton County and liberate North Fulton residents from the trainwreck that is Fulton County “government” (as if one can really call it that…) because you’re really going to need it. The Georgia General Assembly can’t even seem to focus on being able to figure out how to count to ten these days in the precious few 40 days it has alloted for the legislative session, much less pulling off the process to change the State Constitution to accomodate a 160th county. Our “legislators” seem to spend a great deal too much of every legislative session taking in and fighting off the effects of serial laughing gas. It took nearly 30 years and a major swing in the balance of power from the DemoCRAP Party to RepubliCON Party for residents in North Fulton and North DeKalb Counties to be able finally establish their own city governments. Despite the Georgia General Assembly and all of state government being controlled by Republicans, whom one could argue might be more sympathetic to North Fulton residents’ cause, with the legislators’ having the annual combined attention span of that of very small children and wild animals, it doesn’t look like the process to recreate Milton County may occur anytime soon, if ever, though anything’s possible. The Georgia General Assembly could suddenly wake up one day and become a very focused and professional legislative body of thoughtful and considerate lawmakers who are more attentive to the needs of the people they were elected to represent instead of only being attentive to the selfish needs, wants & bank accounts of the powerful big business interests and their lobbyists who finance their campaigns and perk-filled lifestyles, but they WON’T!Report

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