Kasim Reed is a Problem.
Former Mayor Kasim Reed just entered the race for mayor, with law and order at the top of the agenda. The irony should be obvious. It's not. That's the problem.
My formative memory of Kasim Reed comes from the Occupy Atlanta protests ten years ago this fall. The movement had taken over Woodruff Park. The city parked a gigantic mobile command center across from the park to observe the protest.
Occupy refused to leave.
Reed summoned one of the faces of the movement — housing activist Tim Franzen — along with Dr. Joe Beasley, a civil rights leader and contemporary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., for a negotiation in the command center.
I sat outside to listen, and I heard Reed screaming through the armored walls. Screaming. At a septuagenarian civil rights activist. At a peaceful protest.
Kasim Reed is Les Grossman from Tropic Thunder.
A few weeks later, Reed marched a hundred police officers down Peachtree Street in a phalanx of militarized police power I would not see repeated until the protests of last summer.
Today, Atlanta is wrestling with a crime wave that appears to have music industry rivalries leading the way. The nightclubs and hookah bars and late-night restaurants that stayed open have regularly been the scene of brutal, casual violence. One major rap star — YFN Lucci — is in jail right now awaiting trial on murder and racketeering charges linked to involvement with the Bloods gang and a rivalry with the Crips-linked YSL … and yet another group of high-profile rappers. T.I. is under investigation for sex crimes.
Six rappers have been shot dead over the last year or so, while others like Cyhi the Prince narrowly escaped. The scene has increasingly been defined by the threats one crew or another makes in their Instagram posts and music videos.
And now we have to wonder if an entertainment industry lawyer will become mayor again.
This is a problem.
The dynamics of a mayoral election in Atlanta make Reed’s re-election possible. Name recognition is a third of an election, and everyone in Atlanta knows his name. Money is another third, and he has half a million dollars of other people’s money to spend now. As Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms just said, the skills necessary to win public office have nothing to do with actually being able to do the job.
I believe the very worst outcome in November would be the election of a mayor who owes something to the music business here, if we are to expect the people profiting from disorder in the street to be held accountable. But Reed could win, despite the lingering stink of corruption in his administration.
I have borne personal witness to the misconduct of his staff. I know some of the people who have been sent to jail.
A reminder: Mitzi Bickers, Reed’s political confidant installed as director of human services, is awaiting trial on wide-ranging corruption charges. Bickers is connected both to Victor Hill, the now-suspended sheriff of Clayton County who is facing federal charges of prisoner abuse, and the immiserating troll turned gubernatorial candidate Vernon Jones. Reed’s chief financial officer is also awaiting trial. Reed’s chief procurement officer and deputy chief of staff went to jail on bribery convictions. (I have a tremendous story to tell about Katrina Taylor-Parks for later.)
Corruption in Atlanta has tended, historically, to run through the Watershed Department, construction contracts or the airport. Reed’s brother Tracey was enmeshed in the operations of the airport in ways that have never been fully explained. Reed fired Hartsfield-Jackson’s well-respected airport manager Miguel Southwell in 2016, a move that nearly cost Atlanta a long-term contract with Delta. Reed subsequently paid Southwell $147,000 from the city budget without telling the city council, to make a lawsuit go away. I’m still not sure where that money came from.
But Reed wants to run on a law and order platform. This should be laugh out loud funny, given what has swirled around his administration.
When confronted with any of this, Reed usually screams.
Reed made war on the press and transparency. When forced to disclose public documents, Reed famously had 1.47 million pages printed and stored in City Hall, without indexing. I spent hours of my life poring through them myself, simply to demonstrate the evil of it. Reed would regularly issue press releases attacking Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist — and my good friend — Bill Torpy after Torpy wrote unflattering commentary.
Reed’s communications chief, Jenna Garland, subsequently won the honor of being the first person criminally convicted of violating the Georgia Open Records Act, for straight-up lying about the availability of records to the press. She is appealing the conviction.
Reed gave Torpy a long interview yesterday that’s worth reading, an attempt, perhaps, to massage his image before an election.
Reed’s political appeal is as a doer of things. He does things. Things are done. Are they good things? They are things! We can look at things done. People want action.
That has nothing to do with whether Reed manages to improve conditions on the ground, or whether or not he’s sitting in a jail cell before his term ends.
If Reed wins, Republicans will cast him as the avatar of Democratic machine politics in Georgia. Brian Kemp won’t be campaigning against Stacey Abrams; he’ll be running ads linking her to Kasim Reed. I think Reed’s re-ascendance could threaten Raphael Warnock’s seat for the same reasons.
Atlanta, we need to talk about this.