Kasim Reed and the fairy tale of a sewer tax

This is the grim fairy tale of a one-cent sales tax, approved by 86 percent of voters in the city of Atlanta last week — in the midst of a Republican presidential contest that has made taxation less popular than grandmother-chomping wolves.

The moral of the story is one that, with luck, might be applied to the statewide referendums for a transportation sales tax that are now only five months away.

Fortunately for you, this is a brief tale. Because the strategy that set the campaign in motion was conceived only last month, fewer than 30 days before the vote.

The issue was the renewal of a four-year, one-cent sales tax to continue improvements to the Atlanta sewer system that have been mandated by federal courts. Core opposition of 25 percent to 30 percent was assured.

“Our challenges are that the ballot language doesn’t work in our favor, the composition of the electorate is difficult to predict, and the intensity of support…is not as high as we’d like to see,” opened the poll memo from John Anzalone, who specialized in swing-state surveys for Barack Obama in 2008. This is the first time the memo –- the size of a small book — has come to light.

Anzalone spoke of “a volatile political environment and the complication of a GOP primary.” On March 6, Obama’s lone appearance on the Democratic primary ballot would provide little incentive for the city’s traditional voters to turn out -– while Republicans might be stirred to a fever by Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

“It’s certainly not a sure thing,” Anzalone wrote.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was even more succinct. GOP voters would end up casting nearly twice as many ballots as Democrats that Tuesday. “When you adjusted for an electorate that was going to be majority Republican, it dropped [sewer tax support] below 50 percent,” Reed said this week.

The two parts to this narrative concern the message, and the messenger.

If you know anything about fairy tales, you know that they are really horror stories –- which only occasionally have a little happiness grafted to the ending. Fear is the essential ingredient.

“What the data said is that if we had anything other than a direct conversation, that the [sewer sales tax] could lose,” the mayor said.

Instead of “direct,” try “brutal.” Voters had to be persuaded that, come hell and high water, the courts would dictate that improvements to Atlanta’s sewer system would continue. The only question was whether those improvements would be paid with a sales tax helpfully shouldered by non-residents, or by beanstalk–like increases to water and sewer bills.

The sense of urgency, and the lack of any alternative, is a message that transportation advocates might pay attention to.

But just who could deliver such harsh news about the sewer tax was another matter altogether. The messenger had to be someone whom Republican voters trusted, because -– and here’s another twist to the tale -– polling showed that Atlanta’s white voters were more initially inclined to support the sewer tax.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis would attract Democratic voters, but not Republicans. Contrariwise, “Governor [Nathan] Deal’s support would only benefit us if we can communicate it in a finely targeted fashion to Republican voters,” according to the Anzalone memo. (Deal was never approached.)

Polling identified two figures whose opinions could shift Atlanta’s awkward stew of whites, blacks, Democrats, Republicans and independents. Reed ranked first, followed by former Mayor Andrew Young. Shirley Franklin, another former mayor, polled well with Democrats -– less so with Republicans and independents.

Polling showed that 73 percent of Republicans rated Reed’s job performance as good or excellent.

“The data said folks trusted me and had a good feeling about me,” Reed said. Which brings us to the fairy tale part of the story -– the image of Atlanta’s African-American mayor used on direct mail pieces to sell continued taxation to white Buckhead Republicans.

This only three years after Republican Atlanta had gathered to the side of Councilwoman Mary Norwood in a brutal, knockdown race for mayor. Not everyone thought it was the best idea, but there was no time for dithering.

“By voting yes, you can keep water bills from rising and make sure visitors and commuters keep paying their fair share,” Reed announced in one GOP flyer -– drawn up by Robert Highsmith, Reed’s former law firm colleague and one-time counsel to Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Reed credited other GOP “validators” – those who could reassure their Republican brethren that the mayor of Atlanta was indeed speaking the truth. Among them were Charlie Loudermilk, founder and chairman of rent-to-own company Aaron’s, state Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, and Jim Hannan, Georgia-Pacific president and CEO.

That appearance by the mayor on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on the Sunday before the vote? He was there as an Obama surrogate, but Reed said he agreed to the air time –- at least in part — as a means of boosting his status with Atlanta viewers as a straight-shooting messenger.

But you also have to consider that Reed’s good standing with Republicans in Atlanta is yet another byproduct of his early decision to form partnerships with a Republican governor and state House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, on issues such as transportation and the dredging of the Port of Savannah.

“I think a lot of this has to do with relationship-building,” Reed said.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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33 comments Add your comment

Ga Values Ron Paul for Peace & prosparity

March 14th, 2012
7:08 pm

Reed sure carried the water for the Jackson family during the airport contracts, makes Bill Cambell look honest but what can we expect from Atlanta?

Question Man

March 14th, 2012
7:14 pm

Isn’t the main reason for the overwhelming passage that it was in the clear economic interests of the voters to pass it?

Samuel Fuller

March 14th, 2012
7:48 pm

It was refreshing to see Republicans and Democrats in Atlanta come together to do the right thing for the City. D.C. could learn a lesson or two from that.


March 14th, 2012
8:14 pm

Even if I wanted to say that this was a “democratic” marketing push—look at the facts—M.O.S.T. rationally made since for the well being of the city of Atlanta! Thankfully!!!


March 14th, 2012
8:16 pm

Even if I wanted to say that this was a “democratic” marketing push—look at the facts—M.O.S.T. rationally made sense/cents for the well being of the city of Atlanta! Thankfully!!!


March 14th, 2012
8:22 pm

Yellow Dog, Joel Kiley, Cityzen C., Northside Paul, Kudos, S. DeKalb and Silent Majority, you all seem to be using the same computer. Knock off the sock-puppeting.

Cheokee Exburbian

March 14th, 2012
8:29 pm

Mayor Reed exudes competence and integrity at a time when those qualities are so sorely lacking in so many of our public and private sector leaders that even bitter Bible-toting gun-loving conservative Republicans can love and appreciate. When the cause is fixing a legitimate public problem, rather than advancing a polarizing social agenda we can all come together.

Thank you Mayor Reed for stepping up, doing the right thing, and helping to advance a real solution to a long-standing public problem. Thank you too, Mrs. Franklin for starting the program. (Bill C. – uh not so much you race-baiting jail-bird).


March 14th, 2012
8:31 pm

Most of the Voters in favor of Reeds tax increase were black democrats. Why? Because most blacks do what ever the democrats tell them to do. Reed is a Obama butt kisser and a racist. Remember his election message quote” Get out the vote Atlanta and vote for Reed. Don’t let Whitie win”. Don’t trust this Obama front man. The best thing ever to happen for Atlanta would be for ALL of the corrupt racist Black Democrats like John Lewis and company to be voted out of office and replaced with Conservative White Republicans. AMEN!!!!! When is taxing us enough? Also the t-splost tax shouldn’t be passed because remember the lies and corruption about Ga400. Toll Roads NEVER get remove you morrons. And they ALWAYS get more expensive not cheaper. The politicans NEVER lower the sales taxes once you give in and let them have their increases. Wake Up People.

muddy waters

March 14th, 2012
8:34 pm

Pro Kasim sock puppets-have run amok on the Creative Loafing boards a few times recently. Over there, most regular readers see it a mile away and the Mayor’s office is called out on it, if not shamed. Really inept sock puppeting. blatantly obvious.

Kinda funny that Kasim is — more or less — pretty effective and doesn’t really need this. Particularly when it usually blows up in his face and he looks like one of those guys in the cartoons who just smoked the exploding cigar.


March 14th, 2012
9:27 pm

Mr. Reed is proving over and over again that he is the best African American mayor Atlanta has had (probably better then the preceding white mayors but I do not remember their terms).

s. dekalb voter

March 14th, 2012
9:28 pm

I never seen a mayor of Atlanta brag about their so-called popularity with Republicans. Let’s see how that plays out over the long term.


March 14th, 2012
9:33 pm

Thank you Jim for calling out some of these nuts that think it is funny or something to post under different screen names. Now if you could stop the screen name stealing people and finally tell all these people that I do not post under multiple screen names life would be good.


March 14th, 2012
9:45 pm

Who cares about the City of Atlanta’s sewer tax? I don’t live there and won’t be spending a bunch of money in the City…I feel bad for the people who work in the city, and for the tourists who visit it, who will bear some of the burden of fixing it. it should have been dealt with a long time ago.


March 14th, 2012
9:54 pm

Funny thing is that the democrat voters will pay more towards the cost of the sewage system than if they had let the vote fail and forced the city to raise sewer fees and property taxes. As usual, they did what they were told by the democrat plantation leaders…and got screwed again.

Hillbilly D

March 14th, 2012
10:06 pm

I don’t have a dog in this particular fight but I think these votes should be held in November, to ensure the most citizen participation. If you have to count on low turnout to get your program voted in, you either haven’t done your job selling it or it’s a bad program.

This isn’t anything unique to Atlanta, they do it in my community and most of the communties across the state.


March 14th, 2012
10:10 pm

Hard to politicize real infrastructure needs…

especially water and sewer, too many direct implications to health…
transportation driven more by location…

even non-voters agree on benefits of sewer and water.


March 14th, 2012
10:25 pm

Mayor Kasim Reed was voted in by the people of Atlanta his efforts are also voted in by the people of Atlanta. To imply that he can influence the Republican party is absurd. It was approved by 86% of the voters. We can’t water this down to say that everyone was brainwashed to believe the Mayor. They believed that by continuing the tax it would be for the betterment for the City. They also believe the Mayor is leading the City and the people of the City to a greater result then it was before his tenure. Instead of coming up ways to bash the Mayor, why don’t we unify our efforts? Which this article eludes to but has a negative spin to.


March 14th, 2012
10:31 pm

Hillbilly D

March 14th, 2012
10:06 pm

I agree with you that all these types of votes should be held on a general election day and let the majority of the people decide.


March 14th, 2012
11:33 pm

TruthBe… you are an idiot, and apparently live outside of Atlanta. I’m Black, educated and a registered democrat. I vote for issues and candidates that best align with my beliefs and budget. The water bills in Atlanta, of which sewer is 2/3, are outrageous. I pay enough already in city and county property taxes, and a water bill hike was NOT in my best interest, particularly when commuters and tourists -who use our (Atlanta) services daily- NEED to pay their fair share before hightailing it back to Bartow County. Is that where you live? You’re a racist idiot. Rich republicans don’t care about you or your quality of life… they MAKE you come to the polls based on social wedge issues, like contraception and abortion and gay marriage. I’m concerned about sending my kid to college, keeping my home and job. Jesus does not need you to speak for him or regulate morality. Stop the madness and get a life dude…


March 15th, 2012
12:13 am

And I’ll give an AMEN to you, Randall. I don’t see any truth, to what TruthBe has to say. He is clearly a racists and uneducated neocon.

Attack Dog

March 15th, 2012
5:59 am

1. I heard that people living in unincorporated Fulton County, whose water comes from the City of Atlanta, went to the polls wanting to vote for the referendum. 2. The next time you read a negative comment about Mayor Reed, remember that it comes from someone who is a 27%er since “Polling showed that 73 percent of Republicans rated Reed’s job performance as good or excellent.”


March 15th, 2012
7:28 am

To JuliusG above: Well said. One of the best blog comments I have read in many moons.


March 15th, 2012
7:31 am

TruthBe – crawl back under your racist, bigoted rock. Or better yet, move out of our state and country.

Road Scholar

March 15th, 2012
8:01 am

Now now, TruthBe has the right of free speech….and to make a complete fool of himself.


March 15th, 2012
8:04 am

It’s simple: Voters understand that WATER is vital to the survival of HUMAN BEINGS.
Dirty or tainted water leads to disease and pollution – even Republicans/Teapartiers can comprehend those simple facts.

Nuf said.

Lumpkin resident

March 15th, 2012
8:53 am

The sewer work was court mandated. It was going to get done. The only question: who was going to pay for it? The folks voting on Super Tuesday were most likely rate payers… the folks who would directly feel water/sewer rates go through the roof. So it was a no-brainer. Pay it in your bill, or share the pain with Metro Atlanta in the sales tax.


March 15th, 2012
9:10 am

Actually this vote was a no brainer.Fix it for pennies at a time or dollars per month.

[...] The mayor spoke about the a new Falcons stadium at the tail end of an interview about voter approval for a renewal of an essential sewer sales tax. [...]

Gina Brachetti

March 15th, 2012
12:47 pm

I am so thankful for Mayor Reed’s fearless leadership on the sewer tax. Finally we have someone in office who isn’t afraid to tackle real issues facing the city of Atlanta. Kudos, Mr. Mayor!!


March 15th, 2012
2:14 pm

As someone who pays an astronomical sewer bill already, the sales tax is a no-brainer. I’d voted for it with or without Reed as I feel most city-wide homeowners.

[...] The mayor spoke about the a new Falcons stadium at the tail end of an interview about voter approval for a renewal of an essential sewer sales tax. [...]

Wallis T. Coper

March 15th, 2012
2:47 pm

reed is not good an we must not allow him too be elected. gingerich is the best choise an we must get obamo out but not too replace him with other wellfair check president. reed woud be a worster president then obamo mark my words an i got black frens who think just like me so done say i am raciss.


March 15th, 2012
2:48 pm

Ditto what Atlantan said above me!!!