On a hectic August day last year, the mayor remembers taking a hiatus from municipal urgencies to rush to Atlanta's King Center where one of the city's most hallowed elders, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Courage), was waiting. It was a 90-degree Georgia day, and the mayor's shaved head was glistening with sweat.
The two men paused at the outlines of the feet of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Lewis, pointing to his own footprints, urged the mayor "to step forward and stand," the mayor recalls. "And so along a walk of heroes, before a statue of Gandhi, and at the encouragement of a seasoned soldier of the American Civil Rights Movement, I stepped forward and stood."
Reflecting on that moment in a Huffington Post blog, the mayor says: "Our generation must now be the dreamers. ... We must dream with an authentic love that heals, heartens and unifies. And we must dream a dream that is strong, stubborn and relentless."
Stirring words. But I forgot to mention, the mayor was not Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D-Maximumcronyism). Rather, it was Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D-Helluvaguy), who was at the King Center to film a PBS program in which historian Henry Louis Gates examined Lewis' and Booker's ancestries.
It may be an oversight, but in Booker's 3,072-word HuffPost column about Atlanta, he never found a single word to mention his Atlanta counterpart, Reed. After all, the two men have a lot in common — at least on the surface. They both have family roots in Atlanta, they're young African-American mayors running important cities.
But there are major differences. Booker in recent days is being championed as a hero for rescuing a woman from a burning house — he suffered from smoke inhalation and sustained second-degree burns. The Washington Post has headlined: "Booker's heroism not unusual to long-time observers." He has chased robbers, he has cradled a teen dying of gunshot wounds, he has shoveled snow for his constituents. PolicyMic, a "next generation" website, had a recent article titled: "Cory Booker proves not all politicians are scumbags." The Atlantic Associate Editor David Graham wrote: "Same super-mayor, different day ... saving Newark."
Meanwhile, our mayor, Reed, doesn't get such headlines. He's more concerned with taking credit for things such as pension reform and the city's improved finances — when, in fact, actions by City Council members and former Mayor Shirley Franklin greatly contributed to the accomplishments. And, Reed works tirelessly to make sure his campaign backers get their pockets stuffed with taxpayers' dollars. A striking comparison between Booker and Reed is that Newark's mayor has tried to put an end to "pay to play" — the practice of making sure fat-cat campaign contributors get sweet deals at City Hall — while Reed is addicted to "pay to play."
While Booker is making Newark a paragon of ethics reform, Reed is cowering from giving sworn testimony in a protest of winners in the $3.4 billion airport concessions. The word "tainted" almost certainly is applicable to the concessions. According to Reed, he played no role in selecting the winners — which by coincidence (he asserts) overwhelmingly were his associates.
A recent legal document details that Reed apparently was very involved, that the process was anything but transparent, and that's why he won't testify. To me, it's apparent what happened: When one of the mayor's favorite corporate cronies was disqualified, the city cancelled the concessions and restarted the process so that Reed's corporate pal could get back in the game.
Reed's responses have been denial (without proof), constant and flagrant avoidance of the Georgia Open Records law, and castigating companies that disputed his choices and his critics, including me, by citing generally false and entirely irrelevant alleged misdeeds. That's called the "red herring" approach, and Reed has so many of the fish flopping around, he could fill the tanks at the Georgia Aquarium.
Atlanta's reputation will be damaged — as it has been in the past — by cronyism at the airport. You won't find Booker-quality heroes in this story.
John F. Sugg is a former group senior editor for Creative Loafing. Sugg is a board member of Common Cause of Georgia (CCGA), although he does not speak for the organization. Since 2009, CCGA has promoted restrictions on "pay to play" in Atlanta. Mayor Reed has responded with personal attacks on CCGA board members, including Sugg. That dispute, and CCGA's position that Reed should testify in the airport concession protest, are at CommonCauseGa.org.