In an unexpectedly passionate speech that took aim at doubters and the news media, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed this morning declared the campaign for the transportation sales tax to be far from dead, and said passage of the July 31 referendum was needed to pull the region out of the doldrums that threaten its economic standing in the South.
“Just surviving is just surviving,” Reed told a group of TSPLOST supporters at City Hall, casting the referendum as a generational test that will determine whether the region can operate in a biracial and bipartisan manner that can attract new businesses and jobs.
”The city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia, we’ve lost 200,000 jobs since the year 2007. We’ve lost 50,000 construction jobs since the year 2007. That hurt doesn’t have a color on it. And you all know as well as anybody that when the unemployment rate spikes for everybody else, it does even more damage to black people, Latino people, and rural people.”
The occasion at City Hall was an endorsement of the 10-county sales tax by the Atlanta Business League and other groups essential to city political efforts. But Reed used the event to make clear that, while Republicans are either hedging their support or opposing the measure, and even many Democrats have lined up against it, he intended to serve as a full-throated advocate during the final stage of the campaign.
The mayor first addressed concerns that the one-cent sales tax wouldn’t do enough for African-Americans in DeKalb and Fulton counties to warrant the support of black voters. Reed stared straight at state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, who was in the audience and has urged opposition. “Some of our friends are saying that it won’t help minority businesses enough. Y’all, that’s just flat-out not true,” Reed said, his eyes still glued on Fort.
Reed then threw cold water on automated polls commissioned by news organizations that show the referendum to be losing support by double digits– by reluctantly offering up a poll commissioned by Untie Atlanta, showing the initiative only three percentage points down.
“We didn’t want to show our poll, because the poll we took before that was better. All I’m asking you to do is call balls and strikes,” the mayor said, addressing the reporters in front of him. “The public deserves to have the facts, and the fact is that this is going to be a close election.”
Here’s a rough transcript of most of Reed’s remarks, with more to follow:
”Y’all, we did what everyone in America has been telling us they wanted to do. We had 18 Republicans and Democrats from rural and urban look at the future of the region and vote unanimously to pare down a list of more than $20 billion down to less than $6.14 billion, and pass it unanimously. And then take it out and put it up for a vote.
“So we’re not placing a burden on you. You have an opportunity to vote on something for yourself. But I need y’all to understand and remember and go text, call, phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, all of your friends and tell them that just surviving leads to just surviving.
“The city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia, we’ve lost 200,000 jobs since the year 2007. We’ve lost 50,000 construction jobs since the year 2007. That hurt doesn’t have a color on it. And you all know as well as anybody that when the unemployment rate spikes for everybody else, it does even more damage to black people, Latino people, and rural people. …
“Now we have a solution that your leaders have stood behind, and [Fulton County Commission Chairman] John Eaves is standing behind, and I’m standing behind, and the City Council is standing behind, and it’s going to help create transportation mobility like we’ve never seen, but it’s also going to help us build an infrastructure for the future. And it’s going to put $600 million a year into this local economy.
“Now, some of our friends are saying that it won’t help minority businesses enough. Y’all, that’s just flat-out not true. Let me tell you why. Show me another city in the United States of America that has a longer, more distinguished history – since Maynard Jackson, as mayor of this city – for doing business with women and minority business. Show me one. You’ve got $600 million that’s going to be spent with MARTA, which has robust women and minority and small business inclusion.
“You’ve got another $600 million that’s going to be spent, when we spend this measure, that’s going to be spent on the Atlanta Beltline to give you last-mile connectivity. You’ve got $850 million that’s going to be spent in DeKalb County, which has a robust women and minority business program. I don’t know about your math, but that adds up to $2 billion – about a third of the $6.14 billion. So folks that are saying that minorities and women and small business are not going to have a seat at the table are telling you not to believe your own experience and your own eyes….
“Now, another thing. I’ve been reading a whole lot about polls, about whether or not this is going to win. Take it from somebody who knows how to win when I’m behind. I spent two years behind. So you’ll have to excuse me for not getting nervous when we’ve got two weeks to go…..
“I’ve seen one poll that says we were down by 10 points. I’ve seen another poll that says we were down by 10. This is my challenge. Any news organization that has a poll – we have a poll that says the [race] is 38-41. It’s an 800 [voter] sample, which is in the 3 percent margin of error, which means it’s basically neck-and-neck, dead even. Now, I’ll be honest. We didn’t want to show our poll, because the poll we took before that was better.
“All I’m asking you to do is call balls and strikes….the public deserves to have the facts, and the fact is that this is going to be a close election.
“This election – if you gave every single person in the 10-county region a day off, put the election on Saturday, and emailed everybody a hundred times, and God gave us flawless weather, it was never going to pass by more than 54 percent. You understand me? So don’t get nervous about it being a close election, don’t get nervous about the ups and downs of campaigning. But I need you all to fight for this thing.
“I was with Bill Clinton a couple weeks ago. We were in Chicago. And he was talking about how important it is that we pass this in Atlanta, because people all over the world are watching to see what we’re doing. Look at the New York Times. Look at the Chicago [Sun]-Times, look at the Los Angeles Times. Look at Baron’s. Look at The Economist. They are looking to see whether Atlanta is going to step up and start operating in a bipartisan way that nobody in the Southeast has been able to take on….
“This is what we do in Atlanta…. Folks need to stop rooting against this region. I want y’all to hear that. Y’all remember six years ago – when you lost a job, there were two or three or four other jobs that you could go out and get. Right now you go to work on pins and needles, praying that you don’t lose your job, because there’s nothing else out there. I want you all to have opportunities again. I want you to have a robust economy that allows you to go and do other things.
“And folks who are on the other side of this debate haven’t put up one single solution. I know there’s a lot of talking in the street. But anyone who wants to have a serious debate about this, you tell me where to meet them, anywhere, anyplace, and we’ll have it. And we’ll see if they know what they’re talking about. ‘Cause I’m here to tell you, I’m going all out for this. And I believe in the Winston Churchill model. I smile when I fight. I love to fight.
“We did what you asked us to do. Y’all said you were sick of partisanship, and we did this in a bipartisan way. Y’all say y’all were sick about black folks being against white folks, we did it in a biracial way. Y’all said y’all were sick of rural against urban, we did it with rural and urban.
“We can have a debate. But, my goodness, let’s call balls and strikes. And let’s make sure you decide this election around real information. Because what I’m here to tell you is, that if you spend $600 million every single year, your future in this town is going to be better. That you’re going to get home to your family and your children faster. And that you’re going to be part of the most dynamic economy in the Southeast. That’s what I’m here to tell you.
After the speech, I followed the mayor into his office for a post-game interview. He again sounded the generational note:
“Our elected leadership has done what everybody says they want out of elected leaders. If there’s any frustration, that’s what you were hearing in me. Everything that people say that they want, happened in this process. The meetings were videotaped. They were open to the public. There was black people and white people. It was rural and urban. It was Republican-Democrat.
“What should have happened when we passed the project list the first time, it should have been heralded as what it was – which was the most significant political event in modern Georgia. That didn’t happen. But what’s happened recently is that the other side’s voice has been amplified…
I’ve been making the argument, but I’m going to make it a lot louder. …You’re going to continue to see elected officials do what elected officials do – move away from something that is about to fail. But this matter is too important. This is our generation’s moment to really move this region and this state ahead.
Reed began talking dollars and sense. “If we pull off the four significant things that we’ve been working on right now, our competitors can forget about it,” he said. The quartet? The water wars, the dredging of the Port of Savannah, the international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson, and the TSPLOST.
“All of this stuff has been ugly. We have not won it with beautiful passes. You can put the warts and all on it,” the mayor said. “But nobody has given up any of their core values. None of these issues require me to be less of a Democrat, or Governor Deal to be less of a Republican.”
Reed’s bottom line: A biracial, bipartisan metro Atlanta has a future. A fractured one doesn’t.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider