The below interview is one of five interviews done with the top five candidates, in terms of polling, in the race for the next mayor of Atlanta.
CBS46 anchor Karyn Greer sat down with each of them one-on-one to talk about the issues plaguing the city and what each of them would do if elected mayor.
This is the interview with Kasim Reed.
Why do you want run for the mayor of Atlanta?
Reed: Mayor [Keisha Lance] Bottoms decided to move her life in a new direction, and I think that it left a void at a time when Atlanta needs a strong tested leadership in order to push back against the 58 percent rise in violent crime and the 155 murders that the city had last year. I think given the fact that I have built a police force, hired 900 police officers, left the city with a crime rate that was the lowest that it had been in 40 years, that right now we don't have to have time for on-the-job training. And I love Atlanta with all my heart. I'm going to live here for the rest of my life. My daughter is going to be raised in the city of Atlanta, and I am not satisfied with the current state of things. And I believe that I'm the person most able in this election to turn them around and to make Atlanta safe again.
You've done this before, what is the first thing you want to do in your first 100 days of office?
Reed: Well, I'm going to start by going and visiting the women and men of the police department at roll call and at shift changes. And then I'm going to go into neighborhood, after neighborhood, after neighborhood; actually, even before I'm sworn in. After the election process is over. And really start working at restoring our sense of community. Working on this tear that has occurred between our public safety professionals and the people who live in neighborhoods throughout our city. I think that there is some repair work that needs to be done, there's a lot of listing that needs to be done. And then I'm going to get to work right away, raising the funds to go out and recruit the 750 police officers we need.
Karyn, as we sit here today, Atlanta has less than 1,400 police officers. And so I don't know what happened to cause it to fall to that level. But when I was mayor we built the biggest police force in history, but we also decriminalized marijuana, we also disbanded the red dog unit, we also insisted that when the police fires their weapon, that it's investigated by a neutral third party. So we can police in a way that's consistent with our values as a community, we can provide our police officers with due process, and we can return our city to a sense of normalcy so that you'll be able to go shop at Phipps or Lenox without having to walk through metal detectors, or walk around bomb sniffing dogs, or gun sniffing dogs, or have a curfew at Lenox Mall so that young people can't be there and unnecessarily accompanied by an adult. And so that you can go to a gas station in the city of Atlanta without fear or apprehension.
I've heard you thank Chief [Rodney] Bryant for coming out of retirement to take on this job. What are your thoughts on keeping him as your police chief if you are elected mayor?
Reed: I'm going to hire a new chief. We're going to have a search. We need a new chief. I think that this current environment has actually been very unfair to Chief Bryant. He was a member of my command staff when I was mayor, so I know that he's capable and competent, but you can't do the job with 1,340 police officers. And so it was unfair to him throughout the entire process, not to be policing with a full accompaniment of police officers. But we need a fresh start. Relationships, and the level of tension in our city, I think calls for a fresh start. And fortunately Chief Bryant will be able to return to retirement. And I hope that he will remain as a trusted advisor of my administration if I'm fortunate enough to win because he has delivered high quality, noble service to the city of Atlanta.
COVID-19 definitely impacted the city of Atlanta businesses. What would you plan to do to help keep the city running and get people back to work?
Reed: Well, what I'm going to do is, I'm going to identify all of the COVID relief dollars that were meant to be utilized to fight against COVID. People lost a year of life expectancy as a result of COVID last year, black people lost 2.7 years of life expectancy. So we will have a mandate for city of Atlanta employees. We have 9,000 employees, so you will either be vaccinated or you will be tested regularly. So I think that is meaningful. I'm also going to call the other leaders in the region and strongly encourage them to follow that path because we really need to focus on getting everybody vaccinated.
I also like the work that Michael Thurmond has been doing in DeKalb County, where they have been offering $100 rebate cards. It's been highly effective at getting people to get vaccinated because we really don't have a more important role than saving peoples' lives. And getting vaccinated definitely saves peoples' lives and it prevents other people from getting infected, and we still don't have a vaccination that's been approved for our children. So there are a number of reasons for us all to make sure that we are vaccinated and trying to stay COVID free and healthy. And I intend to use the full apparatus of the government to accomplish that.
You mentioned calling leaders in other areas, one of them would be the governor. Were you upset at the relationship that the state has with the city of Atlanta right now?
Reed: I don't know if upset, disappointed would be a more accurate description. I worked with a conservative Republican Nathan Deal. He was a rock red Republican from Hall County. I was an Obama Democrat, and we disagreed probably on 70 to 80 percent of policies, but on the 20 percent that we agreed on, we got incredible things done. We worked shoulder to shoulder with Senator Johnny Isakson to get the port of Savannah deepen. That might not seem like it impacts Atlanta, but it certainly does because the items that are unloaded at that port flow through the metropolitan Atlanta economy. It's the second biggest job generator in the state, second only to Hartsfield-Jackson.
And I had the good fortune of having served with Governor Kemp. I know him, I was in the Georgia Senate with him for seven years. And so I always believed that whenever you're having a conversation with the state that you walk the 345 feet across the street from the mayor's office to the Capitol and you use what's called shoe leather diplomacy. I won't be doing it through Twitter or text or television or any of that. I find, as a person who spent 11 years, four years as a state representative, seven years as a state Senator; that one-on-one conversations like the one that we're having right now are most effective in protecting the priorities of the city of Atlanta. We need the help of the Georgia State Patrol right now because of the amount of racing and reckless driving that is occurring in our city. We need the Georgia State Patrol. And so obviously the governor influences that heavily. And I look forward to a renewed relationship between Georgia and its capital city.
Big part of yours was also, since she brought that up, what went on in city hall during your tenure? Anything you think you could have done differently?
Reed: Well, I think that we should have slowed down. I think that we should have trained more, had a more strenuous ethics training to keep our eye on the ball. I have a number of initiatives that we're going to do, if I'm fortunate enough to be elected mayor. We are going to have lobbyists registration Karyn, which I think, that we should have had and need. So if you're lobbying the Atlanta City Council for a business, you should register. So if you walk into a council meeting and you see someone lobbying, somebody ought to be able to look at a badge and go see who that person works for or represents. It's the same is true for the mayor. I, along with my direct reports, every April 15th, will publicly disclose my income tax returns along with my direct reports. That's the gold standard of disclosure and transparency in the United States of America.
So I certainly believe that we could have done more, but we were accomplishing a breathtaking number of things. And what I hope you'll point out is the allegations and the indictments that occurred were not systemic. They did not relate to contracting. They did not relate to airport corruption in any way. And I was never accused of personal wrongdoing at any time during the entire course of the investigation. And at the end of the day, folks are electing me mayor and they think enough of me that in every public poll that's been taken thus far, I've been first, including the one of a competitor station that came out just last night.
Have you had to go out and tell people, remind people you're not under federal indictment or investigation?
Reed: Yeah well, the way politics work is people get to ask you whatever you want and you give them honest answers. So anytime anyone's asking me, what I've been able to do is to say that what I said in my first press conference, when this started with the young woman who was separated from my administration in 2013, was that I had not engaged in wrongdoing. And what I also said was I've got a mom that's 79 years old and I would never break her heart. And when I got into politics, that was my mother and my father and I's agreement. And I would never break it and I never have, and I never will. But I understand the political process. So every time anybody has asked me a question I've answered without any issue at all. And I'm going to continue to do that through election day.
But what folks need to ask themselves is are they better off today than they were four years ago? So what I believe is folks are going to conclude is that they were better off in Atlanta when I was mayor and the current condition that the city is in right now. And folks who feel that they're better off right now, they've got 13 other candidates to vote for. Right now that's not what's happening.
The elephant in the room happens to be Buckhead. What are your thoughts on the whole group that's set aside to try and—
Reed: Maybe it's the deer or buck in the room as opposed to—
The buck in the room. I like that better as opposed to the elephant. The buck in the room is Buckhead.
Reed: Yeah the buck in the room, yes.
What are your thoughts on that?
Reed: I think the most important thing you can do around the issue of Buckhead becoming a city is to reduce crime. I think what has driven this push towards secession from the city of Atlanta is crime and violence. And as opposed to talking at the Buckhead community, what you can do is you can lower crime and then I think you can have appropriate conversations. I also think you can respond to people and meet with them. You know, folks in Buckhead and a lot of communities in Atlanta are highly frustrated at not being able to talk about what they're feeling and what they're going through. You're not imagining that we're in a tough spot. It's not your imagination. There's nothing wrong with you. You got 1,340 police officers doing everything they can to police the city that grew by 71,400 people. Most of that growth occurred under my leadership. And you have an awful lot of people who moved to Atlanta who feel like there's been a bait and switch. They moved to a city that had unprecedented levels of safety and security. And now they've seen a 58 percent spike in violence, and they've seen 155 murders. It's not your imagination. And in public safety, murders have always been the most important indicator. So people can play games about numbers and statistics, but you have been a seasoned journalist for years. Murders drive perception of crime.
You're going to have to do a lot to entice more police officers, to sign on with the force, ready to give them more money and do the things that they're asking to get in there.
Reed: Well fortunately, Mayor Bottoms raised police salaries. So we're competitive financially, but here's what I know. I know that at the end of my term, I left $200 million in cash reserves. I know that, and I know that we had AA plus credit. And so whatever is left in reserves for a rainy day, I believe that a 58 percent crime surge constitutes a rainy day. I believe that 155 people being murdered constitutes a rainy day. So whatever we have to spend to recruit competent, qualified police who are committed to policing in the post George Floyd, post 5/25 era, we need to spend it. Now is not the time for Atlanta to save money. Because in trying to save money on crime and public safety, you risk losing 20 percent of the population that accounts for 25 to 30 percent of all of the revenue that comes in to the city. And worse than that is the risk to the Atlanta public school system. So if the Buckhead community separated, it's about 225 to $235 million that goes to kids that you and I care about.
Let's have some fun now, enough of all of those, tell me—
Reed: I like the way you get straight to it. I love it.
Let's just get all the other stuff out of the way. Let's talk about your favorite restaurant in Atlanta. What is it?
Reed: Oh, that's, that's too tough. It's too tough. I mean, I'd have to give you some, I mean, La Grotta is on that list. For breakfast, it's Breakfast at Barney's on that list. For casual is Gio's, Antico pasta pizza is on that list. But if Maria is picking it's La Grotta.
I know it. If you could pick one activity to do with Maria in the city, what would it be?
Reed: Active Oval at Piedmont Park.
Which team will win a championship next Braves, Falcons, Hawks United, or the Dream?
Reed: That's a good. The Dream.
Oh yes. And what's the first thing that comes to mind when I say Atlanta?
Reed: Maria. Thinking about my daughter. Thinking about what I want the city to be like for her. Thinking that I want her to be safe. I want her to be happy. I don't want her to be fearful.
In 30 seconds, your best pitch to voters, why they should elect you the next mayor for another term in the city of Atlanta.
Reed: When I had the good fortune of serving as the mayor of Atlanta, I made it the safest city it had been in 40 years. The issue in this campaign is the level of crime and violence. This increased by 58 percent. It's threatening to break our city apart. Together, I believe, we can build a police force that governs and a post 5/25 way and keeps each and every one of us safe everyday.