Kasim Reed casts long shadow over Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta
By Maria Saporta
During her entire time as mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms has struggled with the shadow of Kasim Reed over her and the city.
Bottoms actually referenced that fact – without mentioning her predecessor by name – during her May 6th press conference when she announced she would not be seeking re-election.
Asked if she would continue to be available to work on her priority issues after she leaves office, Bottoms responded yes – up to a point.
“I will be available in any way that I possibly can without interfering with the next mayor’s term,” Bottoms said. “And unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case always during my term.”
Before she could elaborate on how former Mayor Kasim Reed had tried to interfere during her administration, Bottoms was interrupted by her communications chief.
But it was painfully clear. It’s been a tough balancing act for Bottoms to find the right distance between her and her predecessor.
It is widely known Reed propelled Bottoms’ mayoral campaign in 2017. She had been one of Mayor Reed’s most loyal allies on the Atlanta City Council. He was responsible for her being named executive director of the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, a position she took while remaining on Council.
During the 2017 campaign, a prevailing thought was that if Bottoms won the mayor’s race, Reed actually would be running City Hall in what could be referred to as his third term. Some even wondered if Bottoms and Reed had cut a deal – she would only run for one term so he could run again after four years out of office. (Atlanta prohibits mayors from serving more than two consecutive terms, but they are not limited to just two terms).
During her first few months as mayor, Bottoms distanced herself from Reed – presumably because of a federal investigation into potential bribery cases during his two terms in office.
Bottoms recalled those early days during her press conference.
“A far-reaching and ever-growing federal investigation into the prior administration consumed City Hall, leaving employees paralyzed and fearful of making the smallest mistakes, lest they too be investigated or castrated on the evening news,” she said.
At nearly 100 days in office, Bottoms asked for the resignation of all of the cabinet members – most of whom were left over from the Reed administration. Her biggest regret, she said on Thursday, was not asking for their resignations sooner – so there would be no confusion as to who was really running City Hall.
Still, Bottoms was tepid in publicly distancing herself from Reed.
For example, she did not ask for the resignations of all the people serving on the board of the Atlanta Housing Authority, most of whom had been named by Reed. It appeared as though Bottoms and Reed had an understanding tharadiot he could still exert his influence over AHA decision-making.
That became apparent when the Atlanta Housing board decided to doggedly pursue lawsuits against developer Egbert Perry and his partners. It was a carryover of Reed’s personal vendetta against Perry and Renee Glover, a former executive director of the Atlanta Housing Authority. Despite losing repeatedly in court, Atlanta Housing has yet to drop that fight.
And Reed’s involvement became visible for all to see in February 2020 when he showed up in person at an Atlanta Housing board meeting to oppose a settlement with Perry.
At that moment, Bottoms had an opportunity to publicly declare her independence from Reed, but she declined – reportedly sharing her thoughts behind closed doors.
The leadership styles of Reed and Bottoms are an exercise in contrasts.
Reed absolutely loved being in control and at the center of power. He worked long hours – always planning, scheming, strategizing – to push forth his agenda. The problem was that his motives were often suspect, and he was all too willing to dispense with the public process of good government to get the outcome he wanted.
A former Reed official, who had worked in several other cities, once told me he had never seen a City Hall that functioned solely from a “fear of the mayor” as he had witnessed during Reed’s tenure.
Bottoms, on the other hand, has never seemed to relish the role of being in charge and at the center of power. She has seemed much more conflicted about balancing her duties as mayor and being a mother of four children. She reportedly asked her staff to space out her appointments so she would have down time between them.
And she changed the decades-long practice of the mayor convening early Monday morning cabinet meetings (to give the week’s marching orders) to a mid-day, mid-week affairs with minimal direction.
Rather than turning the reigns over to Reed, Bottoms instead relied on Alvin Kendall, a close family friend who had been a criminal defense attorney and convicted felon who eventually regained his law license. During most of her term, Kendall has since been intricately involved in almost everything going on at City Hall – without an official job or title.
It was not always obvious whether Bottoms really enjoyed being mayor.
“Did I like being mayor? I did,” Bottoms said in response to a question. “It’s a hard job. It’s a very hard job, but there are people who get up every day and do things much harder than this, and they don’t have the support and the team
that I have around me. So yeah, I loved being mayor.”
Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin sympathized with Bottoms.
“It’s a really tough decision to make to run for office,” Franklin said in an interview. “It’s a really hard job, and I appreciate that she’s finishing up her term and wanting to move on with her life.”
Franklin also had her own complicated experience with Reed.
When she named Reed as her campaign manager for the 2001 mayoral race, she had lifted his political profile in the city. Franklin’s campaign slogan was: “You make me mayor, and I’ll make you proud” – providing a stark contrast to her predecessor – Mayor Bill Campbell, who eventually went to jail for his misdeeds.
Franklin then supported Reed in 2009 when he was running to succeed her.
But their political relationship fell apart the moment he was elected. It appeared as though he forgot Franklin’s role in helping him become mayor. Even worse, Reed never gave credit to Franklin for putting the city on a sound financial footing by pushing through a millage tax increase during her final months in office.
Their relationship continued to sour during his two terms in office. The only thing Franklin would say about Reed in our interview was: “I’m just not a fan of his style of leadership.”
Interestingly enough, Bottoms announced her decision to not seek re-election after Reed publicly criticized her about the city’s surge in crime (without saying her name) during a recent radio interview with Frank Ski.
Bottoms may have decided it wasn’t worth the heartache to run for re-election with her former political mentor taking swipes at her and possibly entering the race against. Also, she knew she would face at least one formidable challenger – City Council President Felicia Moore – who just reported raising nearly a half million dollars for her campaign.
Now rumors are rampant Reed will soon jump in the race for mayor – further adding to the drama that currently surrounds Atlanta politics.
The question for Atlanta is whether Reed – with his spotty ethical background and his bombastic leadership style – has changed and whether he deserves another term.