Mayor Kasim Reed’s annual address to the Atlanta Press Club originally was scheduled for earlier this month, but rescheduled to today because Reed traveled to Washington D.C. to testify on transportation. It’s safe to assume he wish he’d stuck to the original agenda, given this week’s snow-induced gridlock that made Atlanta’s transportation woes an international news story.
This event, which in years past has been a genteel exchange between a generally popular mayor and the local press assigned to cover him, today was a high-stakes media scrum, with the mayor in damage control mode following local scrutiny and a number of contentious national TV appearances, including Mika Brzezinski’s dismissive “good luck with the next storm” after Reed’s tangle with the Morning Joe crew, and last night’s “South Parked” skewering on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Reed’s sensitivity—like his national political ambitions—is hardly secret. So it was not a surprise that he opened his remarks by taking on today’s piece by New York Times Atlanta bureau chief Kim Severson headlined “Mayor unapologetic in eye of storm that brought Atlanta to a halt.”
Severson, Reed said, must have missed his apologetic appearance last night on WSB. Indeed, just to make sure that he hadn’t misremembered his own remarks, he’d had his staff pull a recording and transcribe his statements. Reed then quoted himself: “I am deeply sorry and regret terribly the pain and anguish” caused to metro Atlantans during the storm—those trapped in their cars, separated from their kids, or, in one surreal case, forced to give birth on 285.
Reed then outlined a multipart plan for preventing a snowpocalypse repeat, including: establishing a protocol for dealing with school, business, and agency closings, soliciting best practices from other cities, appointing an emergency management executive to the City Hall staff, requesting funding from City Council for more snow and ice equipment, and creating a task force that would include representatives from the Weather Channel, “and not just because of Jon Stewart” reminding viewers that the Weather Channel is located in metro Atlanta. “When I’m done with this luncheon, I’m going back to City Hall to get to work,” he said.
Reed oozed the charm familiar to local reporters and glaringly (and somewhat bewilderingly) absent from this week’s national media appearances.
Moving onto his planned speech, Reed outlined his administration’s plans for the coming year, and ticked off a number of talking points: attracting high tech jobs, investing $150 million to $200 million in infrastructure, and implementing a connection between the Atlanta Streetcar and the Atlanta BeltLine. “The Atlanta BeltLine is more popular than I am,” he said. “That used to be funny, but now it’s true.”
It wouldn’t be a Kasim Reed speech without a reference to his pet state project, deepening the port of Savannah to bring more cargo traffic to Georgia. The port, he claimed, supports 100,000 jobs in metro Atlanta, which, he reminded reporters, has a GDP of $295 billion. “The only thing I’m happy about the weather coverage, is that it identified Atlanta as the ninth largest metro area in America,” he said. “We had to get snowed on for that to happen.”
And on the subject of snow, Reed said that he should have acted with his usual bluster. “I should not have respected the divisions [of regional jurisdictions],” he said. “I have the stature and force of personality to recommend the closing of schools and businesses.”
The mayor concluded his talk on time and to enthusiastic applause. The crowd that had prepped for a showdown clustered around for photos.
Of course, how long that goodwill lasts is up for debate. While the mayor was still addressing the press club, the AJC posted an article by Katie Leslie that stated that, on Tuesday, as gridlock intensified on Atlanta highways, Reed had used emergency lanes on I-75 to reach – wait for it – the Weather Channel, where he gave an interview for a national audience. His local press conference, Leslie reminded readers – and her media peers – didn’t happen until late Tuesday night, when thousands of people were trapped in their cars on the highways.