Voter's Guide 2010 - Endorse Kasim? Yep.
Reed has put the city on a great path - but there is much room for improvement
For the last 40 years, the road to a second term for Atlanta mayors has been free of any real obstacles. Since Maynard Jackson became the city's first black mayor in 1973, every incumbent has won re-election. In 2013, history will likely repeat itself as Mayor Kasim Reed runs against three untested underdog candidates. It's safe to say the mayor will walk away victorious. And while he has our vote, he still has a lot to prove.
In one corner there's Al Bartell, a public policy activist and perennial candidate who's previously taken stabs at the U.S. Senate and governor's office. Bartell says neighborhood, community, faith, and small-business leaders haven't had a voice on such issues as the forthcoming Atlanta Falcons stadium, street vending program, and pension overhaul. If elected, he says, he would create an Office of Public Engagement and greatly increase funding to the city's Neighborhood Planning Units to help them thoroughly vet initiatives. For Bartell, running for mayor and calling attention to City Hall's problems is just as important as winning the race.
Then there's Fraser Duke, a Collier Hills financial planner and political novice frustrated by the city's decision to use the hotel-and-motel tax to fund Arthur Blank's new athletic shrine, its acrimonious relationship with Fulton County, and what he considers little to no movement to improve transit. Duke would like to increase transparency at City Hall, build more parks, and wants metro Atlanta police departments to collaborate to reduce crime.
Finally, we have Glenn Wrightson, a longtime Grant Park resident whose platform is focused around fixing quality of life issues with smaller "practical solutions" such as lowering water rates and making police reports more accessible. Among his other solutions: fix city fountains, phase out grocery bags, and help solve Peachtree Road's traffic woes by, yes, moving Cheesecake Factory's valet off the bustling thoroughfare.
None of Reed's opposition has raised any cash. And with zero public debates taking place, in neighborhood groups or on television, they've had few chances to grill each other. That's a shame. The mayor of the capital city of the Southeast should be made to defend publicly why he deserves another stint in office. Because of the lack of qualified candidates — and the fact that Atlanta is better than when he took office — we're giving our endorsement to Reed the manager. Reed the politician is a different story. We'll explain in a moment.
Since taking office in 2010, Reed has put the city on solid financial footing, although former Mayor Shirley Franklin and the City Council, who hiked property taxes before Reed was sworn in, do deserve some credit for helping boost revenues. He's pushed to increase the number of police officers to 2,000, re-opened rec centers, and helped win federal funding for city-changing projects such as the Atlanta Beltline's Southwest Trail and the Downtown Streetcar. He overhauled the employee pension programs that were gobbling up a growing chunk of the city's budget, fully staffed the fire department, and embraced Atlanta's emerging startup culture, an industry that could diversify the city's economy. His staff is cut from the wonkish think-tank cloth that favors data and creative solutions to city problems. He knows that Atlantans want a city that's easy to get around — Reed says he regrets that the campaign to sell last year's transportation sales tax to the public wasn't built from the ground up. If re-elected, he plans to push for massive investments to start chipping away at an estimated $900 million backlog of road and bridge repairs or risk another "pension-sized problem."
"We need to focus on the look, feel, and experience of the city," he says. "We have not in 40 years spent significant resources above the ground. The sewer work ... led by Mayor Shirley Franklin was extraordinary, but no one could see it."
But there have also been warts. When CL endorsed the then-state senator in 2009, we expressed concern that he was too politically calculating — "more interested in outmaneuvering his opponents than achieving a beneficial goal," we said. In some ways, that concern was warranted. Rather than building public consensus during stadium talks, Reed steamrolled the proposal through Council once he had the votes. The same thing happened during the contentious and heated process to decide who would get the chance to operate Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport's shops and restaurants.
Much of Reed's success is due to the fact that his administration moves fast and rarely, if ever, wavers. He characterizes his governing style as "results oriented, highly intensive, and very personal." But that comes with a price. Moving fast might get things done, but it peeves Atlantans who crave — and deserve — transparency and communication.
And underneath the charisma, confidence, and ambition of the rising national Democratic star and Sunday TV roundtable guest, there's a hypercompetitive politician who can be thin-skinned. Some people who push back can be viewed as obstructionists and are met with equal force. (See: Common Cause Georgia, which faced blistering attacks during public meetings about the concessions, and Councilwoman Felicia Moore, who claims Reed has targeted her during this election cycle.) Such an approach might suit you well if you're on the mayor's team or agree with his positions; they're part of the reason he's been able to get some initiatives accomplished. But when you're watching as a resident, you can feel left out of the process.
Atlanta's on the right track when it comes to wanting to improve infrastructure, boost growing industries, and make government more accessible. Some of this is thanks to Reed's forward thinking and the work of staffers, some of it is thanks to Atlanta's residents, neighborhoods, and businesses. And for all that was accomplished during Reed's first term, there was much left to do. Homelessness remains a major issue. Vine City and English Avenue have too many problems to count. Stark income inequality has created a gulf between the haves and have-nots. The mayor says he plans to address these issues and we'd like to see him do it.