By Maria Saporta
In his first public address after being sworn in as mayor, Kasim Reed charmed the Kiwanis Club of Atlanta today at lunch.
He was greeted by a standing ovation. And the audience of longtime Atlantans, many of whom probably had not voted for Reed, interrupted his speech several times with applause.
At the end, Reed received another standing ovation and Kiwanians seemed dutifully impressed.
During his talk, Reed told the Kiwanis Club that he woke up at 5:30 a.m. on his first full day as mayor “with a broad smile on my face.” He then declared his love for Atlanta, and told Kiwanians that “the ship you have helped build is strong enough to weather the storm.”
Among the news Reed delivered:
Luz Borrero, a member of Kiwanis, will remain as a deputy chief operating officer of the city. She is the first high-ranking female that Reed has named to a permanent position in his administration.
Borrero said she will continue to work on transportation issues, handle international relations and be responsible for homeland security.
Reed also said during the question and answer period that would like to speed up the time line for the Atlanta Beltline project. Originally envisioned as a 25-year plan (meaning there are another 22 years to go), Reed said who knows if we’ll be around 22 years from now.
“I believe if we work aggressively enough, use the Atlanta spirit, Atlanta vitality, Atlanta energy and Atlanta passion, we could do it in a shorter period of time — eight to 12 years,” Reed said.
But Reed also alluded to the possibility that he will not take on as many projects as former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.
“What you’ll see in my administration is the city will get out of many things,” Reed said. “The Beltline is one of the things that will stay. I believe it’s better to do a few things well than many things in a mediocre fashion.”
In other news, Reed said he will announce next week a new position of an economic development czar who would report directly to him. Reed said he had a conversation with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, someone he admires greatly, over the weekend.
“He has an individual who doesn’t do anything else but attract jobs,” Reed said. “That individual has to report directly to the mayor. You can’t have business people no know how to interface with their government.”
Reed was asked after his speech how a new czar would differ from the Atlanta Development Authority, the city’s arm charged with promoting economic development.
“It differs because of the lack of layers. It gives speed to decisions,” Reed said, adding that the ADA is a quasi independent authority (of which the mayor is chair) that located off site from City Hall. That’s different than having someone who sits “40 feet away from you.”
Asked whether ADA would continue, Reed said: “The ADA will continue to function. It is valuable and vital. But the role is a little less focused than what I have in mind. When small and mid-sized businesses have a problem or opportunity, they need someone to listen to.”
During his talk, Reed pledged to “aggressively reform the permitting process in the city of Atlanta.” He said the city has been working to improve its building permitting process for years, without full success. He pledged to have a new system in place within a year.
“I’m fed up with it,” Reed said. “I’m mayor now. Within one year, we will have a permitting process that is transparent and business-friendly.”
Reed also highlighted a major contribution that Phil Kent, CEO of Turner Broadcasting System, is making to the city. One dollar of every ticket sold for the CNN Tour will go towards reopening the city’s closed recreation centers.
Last year, about 250,000 people who toured CNN.
“That’s $250,000, so we can open up our recreation centers and not pay for it out of taxpayer funds,” Reed said.
Another interesting moment during the Kiwanis lunch was when State Rep. Margaret Kaiser introduced Reed to the audience. Kaiser had endorsed former Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood a week before the run-off.
After the generous introduction, Reed gave Kaiser a warm hug.