Fixer, Charmer, Builder, Mayor
Fourteen hours with Kasim Reed, the man who can't stop trying to fix our city
By Thomas Lake
Photograph by David Walter Banks
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.
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.