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20 People to Watch - Mayor Kasim Reed

The mayor wants a more equitable Atlanta - and he's not done being the city's chief executive

Mayor Kasim Reed? Atlanta's chief executive since 2010? A person to watch?

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Atlantans won't pick Reed's successor until November 2017. That person won't take office until the following January. But after the country selects its next president in November 2016, the discussion about who will lead Atlanta's City Hall when Reed leaves will suck up all the oxygen here. Long-term projects that would fall under the purview of his successor could be put on hold. If the end of Reed's second and final term matches that of his predecessor Shirley Franklin, top staffers will slowly start announcing resignations to take new jobs.

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Presumably, 2017 would be the time things start ramping down. So, the theory goes, 2016 is Reed's year. And he's going to be busy.

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The mayor disagrees with the theory: "I think we will work until the last minute of the last day because of the sheer volume of things. I think you will see less turnover because we have people committed to a very significant vision."

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Reed says his administration's second-to-last year will be all about "execution" — chief of which will be making sure as many as 300 road and bridge repairs, building upgrades, and other projects approved by voters in last March's $250 million infrastructure bond package get built. The city could receive as much as $100 million from the state's recent transportation funding measure and, if approved, millions of dollars more from a countywide one-half cent sales tax. That's an impressive pile of loot for repaving and other asphalt projects, some of which could include bike lanes. In addition, he wants to prepare the city for terror threats and focus more on public safety.

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There are questions about whether he will support asking voters to add yet another percentage (or half a percentage) to Atlantans' sales tax, already at 8 percent, while at the same time pushing for an extension of the levy that funds Atlanta's sewer overhaul. Oh, and there's the extension of the Atlanta Public Schools tax. Voters could decide all those measures in 2016. And there's the issue of whether the Atlanta Hawks should be given public help to renovate Philips Arena, a facility the mayor says is overdue for some TLC.

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Reed, whose office is packed with awards and paperweights from nearly every business group imaginable, says he hasn't spent much time dwelling on his legacy, save for when he makes what he considers "10-, 20-, 30-year decisions." Among those decisions are megadevelopments that will have generational ripple effects in Atlanta — and which Reed will set in motion or oversee in 2016. The list includes the Boisfeuillet Jones Civic Center; the public portion of Fort McPherson; the redevelopment of Turner Field, and how the city will balance the wants of Georgia State University, its private partners, and the surrounding neighborhoods. Then there is the complete transformation of Underground Atlanta.

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Though it's not an issue he can solve in his final two years, he does want to focus on an issue so entrenched in Atlanta it should be added to the city seal: equity. Reed, a husband and father, says equity now factors into nearly every decision he makes and will be a topic he focuses on for the rest of his "tenure in office and public life."

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"In my mind, London is gone in terms of affordability for normal people," he says. "New York is gone. San Francisco is gone ... I think we have a moment to look at all these things and avoid it."

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Reed wants to see a policy that requires developers to set aside some percentage of new units for people living on lower salaries. In addition, he says, the city is sitting on large parcels, plus Atlanta Housing Authority land, that could serve as a "hedge" against rising rents and property values and allow the city to partner with developers.

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"If we don't address it, it's not going to hold," Reed says, adding that he thinks inequity played a role in this summer's spike in brazen crime. "I'm not trying to be scary. But there is definitely something that is going on in the environment. And if we're not more thoughtful about people who have been shut out, we're going to pay a very high price for it ... Cities are tapestries, mosaics. And when pieces come apart, the masterpiece is ruined."



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