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Mayor Kasim Reed is concerned Atlanta is facing its own ‘Birmingham moment’

By Maria Saporta

The city of Atlanta is facing a “Birmingham moment,” Mayor Kasim Reed told the Bultler Street YMCA’s Hungry Club Forum today.

“There’s a new day in Atlanta,” Reed said. “Atlanta is at a new Birmingham moment, a 2010 Birmingham moment.”

Then he explained that in the 1960s, Birmingham was the dominant city in the Southeast with a “robust steel industry.” But it elected a self-proclaimed racist, George Wallace, as governor; and Birmingham’s police chief Bull Connor became a national symbol of bigotry.

Reed said that by comparison, Georgia elected a moderate, Carl Sanders as governor; and Atlanta elected Ivan Allen Jr. as mayor. Allen “risked his career” when he went to testify in Washington, D.C. in support of the Civil Rights Act, the only elected official from the South to do so.

Because Atlanta became a symbol of the New South, companies decided to ”invest in Atlanta and Georgia because we worked harder at inclusion,” Reed said.

That led to metro Atlanta’s rapid growth while Birmingham remained stagnant.

“When you’re in Birmingham right now all the signs point to Atlanta,” Reed said.

Then Reed went on to explain why Atlanta is in its own Birmingham moment, but he said that today’s issue is not race.

“The new issues that face us today, that jeopardize our city today as the dominant city in the Southeast, is transportation, education, water and the arts,” Reed said. “Charlotte has its eye on our position.”

Atlanta is getting left behind. North Carolina was part of $1.5 billion in a high speed rail service from Charlotte toward Washington, D.C.; and Florida also received nearly $1.5 billion for a high speed rail project. All Georgia received was a $750,000 high speed rail planning grant that needs a local match.

“This can not stand,” Reed said, adding that he hopes the city and the state will be able to enact a “cease fire” and start working together to make sure that people in Atlanta and Georgia don’t continue to lose out.

Given the city’s financial situation, Reed said he does not plan to initiate major new projects while he’s mayor.

Instead, he wants to be known as “a person who came in at a very difficult time and set the city on a sound financial footing.”

He went on to say: “I want a well-run city that meets its obligations where I keep the people safe every single night. I don’t believe we are in a space to have a big view. Atlanta needs to close things out.

“You won’t hear a lot of new initiatives from me,” Reed continued. “I want to do a small number of things very well. I will remain committed to the Beltline and to arts organizations and try to pass dedicated funding. We are going to build the Center for Civil and Human Rights. I will be the person who gets the done. None of these are initiatives of my own.”

Reed received some of his warmest applause when he talked about wanting to spread the city’s business to many small businesses. For example, when the city issued another $1.6 billion in bonds for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Reed said that ever firm that entered a bid got work.

During the campaign, Reed said one of the refrains he kept hearing was that the same people got all the work time and time again. He assured the audience that he would spread the city’s business.

The mayor now has been in office for less than 70 days. After having heard him speak in dozens of forums during the campaign and after he was elected mayor, Reed is becoming a more forceful and comfortable speaker who is able to connect with audiences all over the city.

Maria Saporta

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.



  1. Yr1215 March 18, 2010 2:52 pm

    Reed’s key points: Amen. Fix the finances. Fix the “streets” (meaning panhandling, crime, and streetscaping), fix transportation. Help foster small business and the arts communities. And we’ll be off to the races.

    Gotta find a way to lower taxes too though. Could be a square peg round hole problem. Short of a miracle, Atlanta is probably destined for a cyclical decline for a while. Wish it were otherwise. Next stop, hopefully not Detroit.Report

  2. Baker March 18, 2010 7:30 pm

    Next Governor election could mean big differences on this issue. Will we be “Us vs. Them” or all in it together, recognizing how a strong Atlanta benefits the rest of the state, and vice versa.Report

  3. frankly March 19, 2010 7:51 am

    Unfortunately, I have to disagree with Reed that the issue is no longer race. Its not in the same way that it was back in the 60’s but when you study the transportation issue, race and class divisions are at the root of problem.

    That being said, the best thing Reed can do is make sure the city is the best run city it can possibly be. He’s mayor of the city not the region. Make the city safe, attractive and efficient and this city will thrive. It has too much going for it not to.Report

  4. Hoss March 19, 2010 2:02 pm

    It is too late. The race has been lost. The train has left the station and we are still on the platform waiting for it to arrive.Report

  5. Jennifer March 19, 2010 5:26 pm

    The reason why Atlanta became the hub of the south is not only because of Wallace and Connor. It was because Birmingham refused the international airport which Atlanta accepted. What’s the common theme here? Transportation. If we do not accept what needs to be done in regards to transportation today, we are doomed to be another Birmingham 20 years from now. A left behind one-time boomtown. Charlotte is hot on our heels.Report

  6. Jo R March 19, 2010 10:40 pm

    Charlotte really is not hot on our heels, at least anymore. Charlotte is hurting worse than we could ever imagine and one visit there and it is so obvious. See link from today’s CO and read comments. I’d be more concerned about Nashville than Charlotte. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/03/19/1324059/local-unemployment-hits-128-percent.html?pageNum=10&&&&&&&mi_pluck_action=page_nav#Comments_ContainerReport

  7. Anonymous March 20, 2010 9:34 am

    Kasim Reed’s point is valid. He will need support of metro congressmen who appear to focused on national issues than local concerns.Report

  8. FJ March 20, 2010 9:36 pm

    This is not about Charlotte, Nashville, or any other city. Its about this particular region continuing to thrive or becoming stagnant. In 2010, we need to realize that we compete with the world.Report

  9. FJ March 20, 2010 10:10 pm

    Jennifer that story is sounds like a bit of urban legend, one of many I’ve heard concerning Birmingham “turning down” all sorts of economic opportunity. The fact of the matter is that when Delta made Atlanta its home base(from Monroe LA), it set both on a path toward decades of growth.Report

  10. Joe March 21, 2010 10:33 am

    Charlotte, Raleigh and Nashville are all much more viable options for young professionals. I travel to all of them for work and am blown away at how progressive and nice those cities are compared to Atlanta.

    MARTA must become a viable option for the citizens of Atlanta. Again, as some said earlier, race is at the heart of MARTA’s problems, but that does not have to go on forever.

    Atlanta’s continual insistance on running the airport and everything connected with that, the backroom deals by vendors who are family members of those in the mayor’s office, the backroom deals with Delta that preclude real competition for terminal space are hampering what should be the greatest asset Atlanta has.

    The Beltline is a phenomenal idea, but who really believes Reed will see that project finished, even if he serves two terms?

    The excitement brought by Reed’s election is quickly regressing to the reality that his terms will wind up being marked by the cronyism and ineptitude that marked his predecessors’ reigns.Report

  11. HGB March 21, 2010 8:34 pm

    The only hope for Atlanta is the legislature, but after the last eight years, I fear that is not an option.Report

  12. lbad March 22, 2010 1:51 pm

    It looks like we will be involved in the high speed rail plan put forth by President Obama. It is odd to me that North Carolina and Florida were awarded more money but if you look at the article on PBS below and the diagram of where the train would go you can clearly see we are included. As long as we are continually included in the high rail plans then that seems to be a step in the right direction. I would guess we didn’t get as much federal funding as a result of us having Hartsfield. I find it sad that Gov. Perdue has never really cared what has gone on in Atlanta. We are all interconnected what is good for Atlanta is good for the state as a whole.


  13. Yr1215 March 23, 2010 9:43 am

    Ibad, afraid you are very misinformed about the high speed rail issue. The trains won’t show up in Atlanta (ever) if the state doesn’t put up some significant matching funds. So far, the state hasn’t been able to even get the commuter rail to Lovejoy or the MMPT done. Not to mention the city has failed in general urban quality of life metrics like cleanliness, urban streetscaping, panhandling, etc. (compared to the oft cited Raleigh, Charlotte, Nashville).

    This city is putting along in first gear (I’d say neutral but for the beltline progress and the Peachtree streetscaping). I’m not sure the city can go much faster due to legacy financial burdens.Report


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