Mayor Kasim Reed says “we have work to do” to build bridges with Washington, D.C.

By Maria Saporta

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is doing all he can to make sure Georgia and her capital city is not forgotten in Washington, D.C.

Recently, it has seemed as though Georgia has ended up with less than its share of federal stimulus dollars, especially where transportation is concerned.

In fact, Georgia was only one of 10 states in the country that did not receive any of the recent round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

Georgia submitted 32 applications for TIGER grants including nearly $298 million for the Atlanta streetcar project.

Also, Georgia did not fare well when high speed rail grants were being parceled out. Florida received $1.25 billion, North Carolina received $545 million while Georgia received $750,000, and that needs a local match of $750,000.

“We have work to do,” Reed said in a recent sit down in his office. “What we are trying to do is not place blame, but look forward rather than backward. The process around winning is far more aggressive than I think our civic leaders and political leaders realized. But in Atlanta, we don’t go home and go to sleep.”

Reed suggested that the Atlanta region and the state of Georgia must demonstrate that it is willing to invest in its own infrastructure. Other states that had invested in transit and rail were more successful in getting the federal grants than those that had not.

“We have a substantial amount of work to do,” Reed said. “We have got to get a transportation bill done, and we are going to have to show greater cooperation between our state and local governments.”

Again, Reed stressed that building relationships between both political parties would be essential going forward.

“Having a strong, bi-partisan approach will bring dividends over a long period of time,” Reed said. “With the Peachtree Streetcar, I got involved at the very end. I don’t believe in walking away from projects of that significance. I view it as a setback and not an end. I believe we will achieve much better results in obtaining federal support after we build the relationships.”

Reed was working on those relationships when U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke was in town on Friday. Reed took Locke on a one-hour tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. papers at Morehouse. And then Locke had a private meeting with local business leaders at City Hall.

“We talked about two important items — the census, and the possibility that Georgia could gain a Congressional seat,” Reed said, adding that the civic and business community needed to get behind the census effort.

The second topic was about creating jobs, primarily through small businesses and education.

“What we are trying to do is methodically nurture our city’s and state’s relationship with the federal government,” Reed said. “The Commerce Department is going to spend $4.5 billion in the next 36 months for broadband development. We are going to get some of those dollars.”

Reed also said that the Americas Competiveness Forum is returning to Atlanta this fall. Atlanta hosted the economic conference for its first two years, and last year, the conference was held in Santiago, Chile.

“Of course we would like the Secretary to attend,” Reed said. “We are working to have solid relationships with the administration. And first we want to make sure Atlanta is on their mind as they deploy $4.5 billion.”

Asked if the state needed to become a more active participant, Reed gently said: “I come in peace.”

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.

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