Mayor Kasim Reed's got a fair amount to show for little more than one year spent in City Hall. There's also some work to do if the mayor wants to not follow his predecessor Shirley Franklin's footsteps and watch glowing praise turn into harsh headlines.
Reed, a former state lawmaker who somehow managed to rocket from third to first in a bloody 2009 mayoral contest, has followed through with many of his campaign-trail promises. He found cash — some of it federal funding — to hire more than 100 out of an eye-popping 750 new Atlanta police officers and bump up their pay. He reopened 16 rec centers to offer at-risk young people after-school activities, subsidized with private donations. And he recruited — and convinced to stay another year — a sharp chief operating officer from the private sector who, by most accounts, serves as a good counterbalance to Reed's brand of savvy politicking. (Let's not forget his leasing of Lakewood Fairgrounds to a movie studio outfit that earns the city hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and his successful lobbying efforts for nearly $48 million in downtown streetcar funding.)
Reed's crowning achievement came from channeling his inner political animal. In just over a year, Reed's done more to improve Atlanta's relations with the state than another mayor could likely do in eight. Gold Dome officials who, in the past, have been indifferent to the capital city's woes or outright hostile to its needs, have welcomed Reed into their chambers and praised him as one of the country's great leaders. Reed helped twist former colleagues' arms to finally pass transportation funding legislation and chaperoned GOP heavies to Washington, D.C., while they lobby for federal funding to deepen the Savannah Port. Add to that his own sit-downs with the Obama administration — he visited the White House at least three times to pitch the streetcar — and you see how having a well-connected mayor has its benefits.
That's not to say year one was one without its low points. Last year's selection of Police Chief George Turner, whose name did not appear on the list of three police chief finalists selected by a panel of civic leaders and community activists, gave the appearance the process was rigged from the beginning. It also served as a signal (whether intentional or not) that the mayor was more than willing to flex his muscle to get his way.
Reed's hardball political style can be overly competitive, and this approach to running municipal government has resulted in a failure to build on the city level the same feel-good consensus he forged with state leaders. The upcoming city pension reform — a necessary cost-cutting measure to help the city ultimately avoid insolvency — will further test the relationship between an at-times prickly boss and his employees. It's also disappointing that, since taking office, Reed has done little to build relations with Council members.
Our wish list — less crime, the reclaiming of abandoned homes and, Jesus, the eradication of those damned potholes — comes with a heavy price tag, and many of Reed's big-picture proposals could translate into savings or additional revenues to pay for a city with a higher quality of life. We're going to hold him to his promise to build the Beltline before we all turn to dust.
It's important for the mayor to champion a revamped and resurgent Atlanta post-economic downturn, but we hope Reed's second year will also include solutions to those hyper-local, street-level, often unsexy problems.Note: This article has been updated to correct an error. All of the city's rec centers have been reopened.