The mayor of Atlanta lives alone on a hill at the edge of the city, in a five-bedroom house that serves as a hotel. He is rarely seen there, except on Sundays or when he’s asleep, four to six hours a night, and even then police watch the house in rotating shifts. No wonder he keeps the blinds drawn.
August 10 is a Tuesday, the 219th day of his administration, and a white sun lights the pines on the crest of the hill. In the driveway, two men fiddle with their BlackBerrys next to a black Ford Taurus with tinted windows. One is the mayor’s deputy press secretary. The other is a bodyguard, with barrel torso, dark suit, earpiece. The men wait for the mayor because it is their job to wait for the mayor and also because these are the only minutes all day he will truly have to himself. And so, although Delta is the largest airline in America, and although Delta’s presence in Atlanta has been a crucial part of the city’s rise to international prominence, and although the mayor has an eight o’clock meeting with the CEO of Delta, and although the mayor is in moderate danger of being late to that very meeting, nobody tries to hurry him up.
Photograph by David Walter Banks
Educated guesses can be made about what he’s doing in there. Drinking his breakfast, in all likelihood—twelve ounces of straight Coca-Cola. Reading the New York Times and the Financial Times. Putting on his tailored Tom Ford suit, black, with a jacket that broadens his shoulders, and tying the tie with a four-in-hand knot that sweeps from his left to his right. In any case, he is preparing. The mayor has said that he is neither particularly smart nor particularly talented—whether or not he believes it, this self-deprecation is obviously false—and that he has made his achievements by working harder and preparing more thoroughly than everyone else. “I think you should work as hard as you can humanly withstand when you’re young,” he has said, and there is no doubt he lives by these words. Kasim Reed is forty-one years old, fifteen years younger than the average mayor among the ten largest metropolitan areas in the United States. Of those ten, the only one younger than Reed is Adrian Fenty, age thirty-nine, of the District of Columbia, with whom Reed regularly exchanges text messages. But Fenty is a triathlete with a wife and three young children. Reed has no wife, children, pets, or discernible hobbies other than the occasional late-night jog. (He used to enjoy swimming, but he has no time for that anymore.) Thus, he can serve the city with a single-minded dedication that borders on monasticism. He worked fifteen hours on Monday and will work twelve more on Wednesday. Today’s workday will last fourteen hours. This is not an especially busy week.
The black Ford Taurus makes a granular hum as it idles in the driveway. The temperature will rise to ninety-five degrees by late afternoon but now the air is cool, if a little heavy. At 7:41 a.m. the front door opens and the mayor swaggers down the front walk. He stands six feet tall, 210 pounds, thirty-five pounds softer than he was in college, with minuscule threads of white in his short black hair and a crease near his left eye from the day more than thirty years ago when a Coke bottle shattered and a shard of glass pierced his cheek.
“Need to stop anywhere, sir?” asks the bodyguard, Investigator Craig Cooper, driving out of the subdivision with the mayor in the backseat. He asks this question even though it’s 7:44 and they have twelve miles to go through rush-hour traffic and only sixteen minutes to do it.
“No,” Reed says, scanning the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Reese,” he says, handing one of his two BlackBerrys to Reese McCranie, the deputy press secretary in the front seat, “would you plug that in, and turn up the air?”
McCranie complies, and Reed turns to his other BlackBerry. Investigator Cooper guides the Taurus onto Interstate 285 and presses the accelerator. The speedometer approaches 90 miles per hour. Cooper drove Mayor Shirley Franklin before Reed, and Mayor Bill Campbell before Franklin, with a brief side job as Mike Tyson’s bodyguard. Now he drives with ruthless precision, weaving from lane to lane, inches from rear bumpers, always in control. If you’ve ever been cut off on a road in Atlanta by a black Ford Taurus with tinted windows, there is some chance you’ve just come close to meeting the mayor.
At 7:55 the Taurus pulls off Interstate 20 to wait at a red light in a long line of cars. The mayor pauses his telephone conversation.
“Coop,” he says, “would you go around this? I wanna go!”
Coop goes around it. He pulls into an empty right-turn-only lane, drives parallel to the thicket of cars, and sweeps past them in a wide left turn. It’s 7:58 when he passes through the gates to a garage under City Hall. Reed gets out of the car and enters a secure elevator. McCranie hands him the freshly charged second BlackBerry. Reed gets off the elevator and walks toward his office. He has an eight o’clock meeting with the CEO of Delta Air Lines, and he arrives at exactly eight o’clock.