Last year witnessed several loud, knock-down-drag-out fights between the Legislature and elements associated with the city of Atlanta. Usually, the city lost.
But in an effective appearance before the state House this morning, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed essentially promised that – while the situation may be even more dire this year – there won’t be a repeat.
“It’s time for us to have a cease-fire. We can deal with the stuff between us later. But right now, Georgia’s dominance as the capital of the South is threatened,” the mayor said.
Note that Reed identified Georgia as the capital of the South. Not Atlanta.
Reed’s invitation to speak was recognition that the House had served as the starting point for his political career – though Reed actually spent more years in the Senate. So the mayor understands that his former colleagues can be a prickly bunch. If Reed used the word “humble” once, he used it five times — before House members and in interviews afterwards.
His language, if employed outside the state Capitol, might even have raised some eyebrows.
Said Reed to the House:
“I’m also clear on one thing. I’m a rookie member on this team, and I’m quite comfortable with that. The speaker, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the House and the Senate are the captains of this team. You all are the captains of this ship. I want you to know you’ve got a rookie member who’s ready to do my part, whatever it is. I’m ready to go get the water, wash the laundry, clean the towels, whatever it takes.
“But I also want you to know you have a capital city that is a humble city that wants to work with you – in every way that I can. I want to make sure that the city is safe, that the water that flows downstream to your communities is clean, and that when you read the papers – the Atlanta Journal and all of the rest – that you feel a sense of pride.”
Blogger Andre Walker of Georgia Politics Unfiltered has helpfully posted Reed’s speech on YouTube:
After addressing the House, Reed went to the chamber’s anteroom, where a line formed of House members wanting their photo snapped with him. A line of 10 grew to 15, then grew to 20 – then 25. Not a normal reception at all.
In interviews with reporters, Reed summarized his approach. “Now is not the time for us to be turning on one another. We need to work on problem-solving. People don’t want to hear about anything else. They want to know what are you doing to help me keep my job,” the mayor said.
Reed said transportation will be his focus in the Legislature:
“If we don’t change things, we’re going to be a transient city and a transient state. We’re going to be a stopover, as opposed to the place that people make home. And we can’t do it without one another. Georgia will not thrive if Atlanta does not do well. But at the same time, you have to have a capital city that is respectful of the state and its traditions, and cooperates in that fashion.”
Again, the language is remarkable.
Reed’s strategy became most clear when asked about MARTA. State law dictates that the transit agency can use only half of the proceeds from sales taxes on operation. The rest must go toward capital projects. Last session, MARTA chief Beverly Scott made several trips to the Legislature, to argue that the transit agency is on life support when it comes to funding.
Here’s what Reed said:
“My sense is that MARTA is a work in progress, that you cannot force it, and that you can’t get into a situation where you’re making hard statements about MARTA.
“I think everyone understands the gravity of the situation. I think everyone understands that, without any change in MARTA’s funding, it goes broke in about 18 months. That can’t stand from a competitive standpoint. It would devastate the [state-owned] Georgia World Congress Center. So there are multiple competitive reasons that MARTA needs to function well.
“If MARTA cuts service in a serious way, or reduces its weekend service, we will lose convention business to Orlando and other cities immediately. It’s a fact. So we’ve got to get the emotional components out, which is what my message was about. We can get back to point-scoring when things are good. When you’ve got surpluses, we can play these games. But everybody that I know is broke.”
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