Kasim Reed: Atlanta magazine’s annexation story ‘perpetuates a form of bigotry’

Atlanta’s mayor responds to recent article on how two annexation proposals could impact the city’s 2017 mayoral race
Kasim Reed

Max Blau

On December 8, we published the article “How less than six square miles could determine Atlanta’s next mayor,” which is featured in our January 2016 issue. The story looks at Atlanta’s efforts to annex Sandtown and Druid Hills, within the context of the city’s shifting demographics. This morning, Mayor Kasim Reed responded to the article in a press release. Read the full statement below.

My goal as Mayor of Atlanta is to serve our residents, protect the city’s position as the cultural and economic capital of the South and build a strong foundation for the future of the entire region.

One measure of success is a city filled with civic-minded and engaged residents. I’m proud that since my inauguration in 2010, Atlanta’s population has increased by an estimated 36,000 residents. I would like to see Atlanta reach a population of 500,000 residents, a goal that can be achieved through organic growth and annexing nearby communities who wish to become a part of our thriving, vibrant city.

Right now, Sandtown in south Fulton County and Druid Hills in DeKalb County are considering annexation proposals. Unfortunately, in a recent article, Atlanta Magazine writer Max Blau frames my position on these proposals through an ill-informed and frankly, outdated and offensive racial prism. Blau mistakenly argues that my administration’s annexation efforts are intended to maintain the city’s voting demographics toward favoring an African-American mayoral candidate.

Let me immediately set the record straight.

I have not favored one community more than another. I have welcomed all communities who seek annexation, regardless of the racial and ethnic composition of their residents. A case in point: We recently welcomed Edmund Park and the East Lake Golf Club community, both of which annexed into the city through a unanimous petition. Edmund Park is a largely white community with housing prices that start at approximately $500,000, according to zillow.com

Blau also gets his math wrong. He quotes one political analyst who says the city’s racial balance is already close to tipping, yet then quotes a second who says the city needs a one-to-one match of Druid Hills and Sandtown residents to maintain the current balance. There are 39,000 people in Druid Hills who may become Atlanta residents and only 17,500 in Sandtown. If we are to buy into Blau’s argument, we must also recognize that more than two areas with populations equivalent to Sandtown’s would need to be annexed in order to preserve the city’s racial demographics—if that were my ultimate goal. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with this process knows that I have welcomed them both enthusiastically.

The reality is that I have never governed the city in a racially divisive manner; in fact, my entire record of public service shows that I champion fairness and inclusion. The annexation of both Sandtown and Druid Hills, in my view, would be a win-win situation. We would help eliminate environmentally and economically crippling sprawl and create a more connected, diverse and walkable urban metropolis. The annexation of those communities also would present the rare opportunity to bring a world-class teaching and research institution, strong neighborhoods, hundreds of thriving commercial and industrial businesses and the leading national public health institute of the United States into the city of Atlanta.

It’s worth noting that under my leadership and with the support of the Atlanta City Council, the city has passed six consecutive balanced budgets and kept property taxes flat or rolled them back. The city closed this past fiscal year with $150 million in the bank and is in the strongest financial position we’ve seen in more than two decades.

Those policy decisions enabled me to offer a ten-year property tax freeze to residents in Sandtown during a time when we were competing against the creation of a new city of South Fulton. I am also committed to working with parents who are concerned about the impact of annexation on their neighborhood schools.

To be clear, the geographic change I have opposed openly is the incorporation of a new City of South Fulton, an option for Sandtown residents. A new municipality would cause the city of Atlanta to be landlocked, limiting future expansions and creating a disproportionate impact on the rights of other neighborhoods to choose their future.

I would also argue that a new municipality does not best serve Sandtown residents because the city of Atlanta can deliver better services for their tax dollars. Atlanta’s fire and police departments are nationally recognized and I believe that our residents have stronger and more effective local representation than those who are solely represented at the county level.

I often say the future of politics is performance. Today, that is true more than ever. Across the nation, we have seen that voters will choose leaders based on their talent, merit and record of accomplishment, not solely on their race. Blau seems to expect that black and white voters have and will always choose a mayor based on skin color rather than talent and tenacity. By focusing so intently on the subject of race to the exclusion of all other considerations, Blau perpetuates a form of bigotry that I am confident the city’s voters will reject.

Our city is ascendant. I extend an open invitation to any community that wishes to contribute to and share in our success—and call our city home.