Hoping Mayor-elect Kasim Reed will join the ranks of Atlanta’s greatest mayors

The morning after of the city of Atlanta’s run-off election, I received an email from a veteran player in local government — George Berry.

Berry served under four different Atlanta mayors — Ivan Allen Jr., Sam Massell, Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young. As the city’s aviation commissioner, he oversaw the building of Atlanta’s new airport. Berry also served as commissioner of what is now the Georgia Department of Economic Development. More recently, he served as an executive of Cousins Properties until he retired a few years ago.

In short, Berry has a long memory, great insight combined with decades of exemplary public service.

So after the run-off on Dec. 1 showing that former state Sen. Kasim Reed had been elected Atlanta’s new mayor, Berry reached out to me.

“I woke up this morning thinking about a relatively young, African-American attorney with a good reputation, well educated with a well-known law firm who was going to be Atlanta’s new mayor,” Berry wrote in his email.

“I suddenly had a déjà vu feeling. It was that morning in 1993 when we learned that a well-educated, well-spoken attorney named Bill Campbell had been elected mayor of Atlanta,” Berry continued. “It occurred to me that Reed is standing at the same ‘fork in the road’ where Campbell stood 16 years ago. He can travel down the road he chooses. He can choose the road of bitterness, of revenge, of getting even. Or he can choose the one of inclusiveness, of generosity in victory.

“We saw where Campbell’s choices led the city. I think it would be constructive to remind Reed of the lessons of recent history in the way he approaches the mayor’s office.”

The ghost of Bill Campbell has haunted this city for the past eight years. After he completed two terms as mayor, Campbell was convicted of federal tax evasion and spent a couple of years in prison.

With the exception of Campbell, the city of Atlanta has had the good fortunate to have exceptional mayors — at least from the time when William B. Hartsfield was first elected in 1937.

When Shirley Franklin was running for mayor nearly nine years ago, her critics often said she would be a continuation of Campbell. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Interestingly enough, Reed was Franklin’s campaign manager during both her mayoral races.

Franklin immediately pledged to run an ethical and professional City Hall, and she was able to reverse a deficit of more than $80 million.

Thanks to the help of the Bain & Co. consulting firm along with partner Peter Aman, the Franklin administration was able to overcome that initial deficit. Aman and his team also thoroughly analyzed best-in-class cities around the country with the goal of improving operations at Atlanta’s City Hall.

In his first few days as mayor-elect this week, Reed announced that Aman would serve as his chief operating officer.

That move gave Berry comfort that Reed “is in the Shirley mold rather than the Campbell mold.”

Reed also has sent other encouraging signals that he would rather take the high road than be vindictive and divisive.

After the general election, Reed reached out to City Council President Lisa Borders, who came in third. She endorsed Reed, and in return, Reed invited her into his inner circle.

But Reed’s behavior since the run-off election is even more significant. During this past month, the run-off election between Reed and City Councilwoman Mary Norwood became increasingly bitter and intense.

Reed came out ahead with about a margin of about 700 votes, such a close election that Norwood said there should be a recount.

Although Norwood had not conceded, Reed told WAGA-TV a day or two after the run-off that he “would like to have Mrs. Norwood involved in an important way if she would like to continue to be involved in municipal government.”

Reed added that he thought Norwood “has an important voice, and I think that it’s vital that we work together to unify the city that we both love.”

Norwood responded in kind, saying: “Any way I can help this city I would definitely consider it.”

It reminds me of the book: “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” written by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The book described how Lincoln put together his cabinet with people who had run against him.

President Barack Obama, an admirer of Lincoln, used the same strategy. He named Joe Biden, a former rival, as his vice president; and he turned to his top rival, Hillary Clinton, to serve as Secretary of State.

Although being mayor of a city of 520,000 people is a far cry from being president of a country of nearly 309 million. But a mayor and president can share the same leadership instinct.

As we look forward to the next four or eight years, we can only hope that Reed will join the ranks of Atlanta’s greatest mayors — someone who puts the good of the city above his or her ego and self interest.

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.

2 replies
  1. Natasha says:

    Maria,
    I agree that we can only hope Reed has the same leadership instinct as our President. While he does represent change to the current mayoral leadership legacy in that he previously served as a State Senator rather than City Council, to hope he may join the ranks of great mayors may be wishful thinking, since the last great mayor served during the 1980s. The City of Atlanta has a poverty rate of 24%, nearly double the national average. The high school graduation rates are one of the lowest of the top 50 cities in the nation. Only if he begins to legitimately tackle these problems then does he have a shot of becoming a great mayor. But from what I’ve read so far, he will do as recent others have done, simply keep this ship afloat.Report

    Reply
  2. Mark J of Brookhaven says:

    “I suddenly had a déjà vu feeling. It was that morning in 1993 when we learned that a well-educated, well-spoken attorney named Bill Campbell had been elected mayor of Atlanta,” Berry continued. “It occurred to me that Reed is standing at the same ‘fork in the road’ where Campbell stood 16 years ago. He can travel down the road he chooses…..

    Yes, but unfortunately it took hundreds of years and several mayors to eventually stop the atrocities and terror that were allowed under all of the white male administrations, to where a Black mayor was eventually elected.

    But yet you have the nerve to call one Black mayor vindictive and divisive? You act as though this position (of being Mayor) hasn’t been earned through hard work and personal sacrifice, let alone by the mayor himself – Kasim Reed, but most notably, by our previous predecessors of Black mayors as well. This sounds like another attempt at a self-appointed opinion of a bitter white male telling Black people they need to ‘stay in their place’ or else. It’s a new generation and if you don’t know, then you better ask somebody.

    No apologies needed.

    PLEASE!Report

    Reply

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