By John Schaffner
Forty-year-old Kasim Reed took office Jan. 4 as the 59th mayor of his native Atlanta and vowed to help small business owners and the city’s youth and to improve customer service for all citizens.
“We cannot face our future if we are facing off with each other,” the new mayor said during a 25-minute speech following being sworn in at the Atlanta Civic Center, with his parents at his side and about 4,000 in the audience.
In addition to Reed, Ceasar Mitchell was sworn in as the new City Council president, along with the 15 district council members and the city’s municipal court judges.
Buckhead resident Yolanda Adrean took office as the new Dist. 8 member of City Council, replacing 20-year veteran Clair Muller, and Howard Shook and Felicia Moore were sworn in for additional four-year terms as council members representing Buckhead’s Districts 7 and 9.
Reed praised past Atlanta mayors, several of whom shared the stage with him, for creating an atmosphere where business growth became a hallmark of the city.
He said that while creating jobs is a task best left up to the private sector, city government can and should make it easier for start-up companies. He pledged to do so by streamlining the permitting process. “It will be more efficient and easy to use,” he said.
“We have a responsibility to create a culture where the city allows businesses to respond quickly to opportunities,” he said during his speech. “I will be known as the mayor of the small business person.”
Reed also promised to reform an employee pension system that now eats up $1 of every $5 in Atlanta’s budget.
He pledged to attack the city’s crime problem by focusing on aggressive panhandling and gangs. To reduce gang activity, he pledged to reopen all of the city’s recreation centers during his first year in office. Reed campaigned on a plan of increasing Atlanta’s police force by 750 officers in his first term.
Reed challenged the crowd at the civic center to help him help the city over the next four years. He ended his speech by saying he will work to make Atlanta “the city on a hill. Come with me,” he said. “We will win. Our journey has just begun.”
On his first day in office, Reed unveiled a reorganization of the police department’s command staff (Story page 35) and announced other plans, including one to hire an economic development czar for the city.
The Jan. 4 inauguration activities were modest in comparison to the 2002 celebration for Shirley Franklin, the city’s first female mayor. Franklin’s inauguration included a ball, which Reed eliminated from the day’s activities, indicating his being sensitive to the economic problems faced by many Atlantans.
Even so, there was pomp at the swearing-in ceremony. A parade of former mayors and city leaders pleaded for the city’s new leadership to help the less fortunate in these tough times.
They spoke of the city’s many challenges, but as former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell noted, “it was considered the most difficult of times” when he took office in 1970, “with implementation of civil rights reforms of epic proportions, which precipitated transformation from predominantly white control to predominantly black control of local government. We made it work,” he stated.
“Achievements of mayors down through the decades, from William B. Hartsfield to Shirley C. Franklin, have served only to put a label on a package of progress promulgated by the cooperation with City Council people, and the man hours expended by the department heads and city employees, for certainly it is not a one-man show,” said Massell, the president of the Buckhead Coalition.
“You, Mayor Reed, the council and judges, are coming on stage during extremely difficult economic times. It dictates frugality, but don’t despair, as you are not alone,” Massell said. “Our city has a long history of working together under the most stressful of conditions.”
Later, several hundred people waited in line at City Hall at an evening reception that replaced the inaugural ball to meet the new mayor. “We’re going to get through these times together,” Reed told the crowd.
Reed won one of the closest elections in the city’s history. The former state lawmaker won a runoff against Mary Norwood by 714 votes out of more than 83,000 ballots cast in the Dec. 1 runoff election.