Atlanta’s inaugural ceremony raises hopes for 2014 and beyond
By David Pendered
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with quotes from Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell’s prepared remarks.
Atlanta will continue to serve humanity as a “city on a hill,” one that nurtures prosperity as it cares for the humble.
This is the aspiration for the coming four years as proclaimed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell in their separate inaugural addresses Monday.
Reed vowed specific programs regarding public education, and college funding for all deserving students; construction of affordable housing at Turner Field and at Fort McPherson; stronger criminal justice for repeat offenders and a jail-to-freedom transition. Mitchell cited some of the same goals and said they could be achieved through better collaboration among local governments.
The city’s two top elected officials hugged on stage. Reed rose from his chair and stepped forward after Mitchell’s speech, and the council president stepped toward the mayor.
Visiting dignitaries noted by Reed included Willie Brown, the famed California politician who served 30 years in the legislature, including 15 years as speaker, and then as the first African American mayor of San Francisco; and Glendon Harris, the mayor of Montego Bay, Jamaica, which is one of Atlanta’s sister cities.
In addition to the mayor and president, oaths of office were taken by members of the Atlanta City Council and the judges of Atlanta Municipal Court. Only the top two office holders spoke.
Reed provided one subtle reference to national politics and the Democratic Party’s new focus on income inequality. It came in the form of a reference to DNA.
Reed said Atlanta welcomes foreign-born residents and visitors: “We embrace hopes and dreams for people from around the world. We should lead in that direction because inclusion is in our DNA.”
In his inaugural speech last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York. And that same progressive impulse has written our city’s history. It’s in our DNA.”
Reed outlined his platform for his second four-year term in office:
Fire trucks will remain fully staffed, with four firefighters; the police department will be staffed at 2,000 officers equipped with the latest gear; corrections will be staffed and equipped;
- Reed’s ready to negotiate for better use of the city jail;
- Repeat offenders should serve their sentence and not be released early: “I’m not talking about a young person who made a mistake. I believe in two, three, four chances. But folks convicted 30, 40, 50, 60 times [and are released early] – for that there is no excuse.”
- In the next 100 days Reed’s administration will unveil a plan to address a jail-to-freedom program: “Prisoner reentry is not simply a criminal justice issue … it is a human rights issue.”
- To upgrade roads, bridges and other infrastructure, in 2015, Reed will call on the council and voters to approve a bond issue an amount of $150 million to $250 million. This year, a blue ribbon panel will seeks ways to reduce waste in infrastructure spending.
- College funding must be provided for needy students. Reed cited Kalamazoo, Mich. as a role model without elaborating.
- Affordable housing will be created on land where Turner Field will be bulldozed at Fort McPherson. Reed did not offer details.
Reed said the region must improve its transportation networks, though the program may be smaller than envisioned in the one that voters rejected in 2012 when they turned down the proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation.
Reed also said he was disappointed the Atlanta Braves had decided to move from the city to Cobb County, but said he will be at the first game in the new stadium to cheer the team to victory.
Mitchell said the Atlanta City Council remains committed to working with Reed, “to ensure every Atlanta citizen reaps the benefits of their hard earned investment in our city’s success.” He vowed the council will provide transparency and accountability, and he thanked residents for their patience as the city government navigated the Great Recession.
“Thank you for standing strong and holding on,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said Atlanta must be, “united as one city, not two cities, or three cities, but as one city.” Not to belabor the point, but De Blasio’s speech that was so acclaimed by some Democrats described New York as a “tale of two cities.”
Mitchell outlined a platform that includes:
- Encouraging smart growth in communities such as Mechanicsville and Peoplestown.
Promoting economic opportunity around the future Falcons stadium: “It must be pursued with authenticity and dogged determination.”
- Better roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure that, “must touch every corner of our city.”
- Stronger relations with Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton and DeKalb counties, Grady Health System and Atlanta Housing Authority.
- Functional partnerships with the judiciary systems in Fulton and DeKalb counties.
“This is the collaborative approach that is our opportunity going forward as a city,” Mitchell said. “There is nothing we cannot accomplish. This is a story of all of us. This is a story for all of us.”
Atlanta’s inaugural program unfolded over two hours under the guidance of Brenda Wood ad Bill Nigut. The crowd arrived slowly on a freezing morning, but by noon most seats were filled on the main floor of the Bousfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center.
The event started just a few minutes late with a song by the Howard University Choir, which traveled from Reed’s alma mater. Alexandra Jackson, daughter of former Mayor Maynard Jackson, performed the National Anthem.
Visiting dignitaries noted by Reed included Willie Brown, the famed California politician who served 30 years in the legislature and then as the first African American mayor of San Francisco; and Glendon Harris, mayor of Montego Bay, Jamaica, which is one of Atlanta’s sister cities.
Atlanta’s faith community was well represented.
The invocation was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Walter L. Kimbrough, Columbia Drive United Methodist Church.
Prayers for the city were offered by:
- Rabbi Neil Sandler, Ahavath Achim Synagogue;
- Iman Mansoor Sabree, Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam;
- The Rev. Dr. Joanna M. Adams, First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta;
The Rev. Dr. Craig L. Oliver, Elizabeth Baptist Church;
- Pastor Paul Palmer, The Atlanta Dream Center.