Kasim Reed spends a lot of time thinking about the next guy. Not that the Atlanta mayor has plans to leave office anytime soon; he was elected to his first term just two years ago. Nonetheless, Reed puts considerable energy into planning for his successor. It was that mindset that compelled Reed to address Atlanta’s looming pension crisis head-on. The city’s retirement plan had plummeted from 99 percent funded in 2001 to 51 percent funded by 2009 -- a $1.5 billion problem. “This was going to blow up at some time, either while I was in office or shortly after I got out,” Reed says. “I could have duct-taped it and escaped. But it was going to explode on a new mayor.”
Reed engineered a major overhaul of the city’s pension plan for new hires as well as existing employees, shifting to a defined-contribution plan and increasing workers’ contributions by 5 percent across the board. Under intense pressure from Reed, the City Council approved the new plan 15-0 in June. The overhaul -- along with other fiscal reforms the mayor has achieved -- puts the city on its soundest fiscal footing in a generation. Reed has reopened community centers and pools, added 100 new police officers to city streets and even instituted a modest pay raise for police and firefighters. At the same time, the city’s reserves have grown from $7.4 million to more than $70 million by the end of this year.
Reed is a Democrat, but his pragmatic, bipartisan approach -- which he attributes to his 11 years in the state Legislature -- has earned accolades from leaders on both sides of the aisle. Reed “genuinely puts what’s in the best interest of the city or the state ahead of politics,” Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Republican, told Roll Call earlier this year. “I think that’s really the defining attribute of a statesman.”
His successes in Atlanta have garnered national attention, but Reed says he’s turning his focus to “quieter achievements,” like instituting a 311 customer service system and increasing on-time trash pickup. And, of course, thinking about his successor. “I believe a lot of the work I’m doing is really for the next mayor,” he says. “At some point, there’s going to be a mayor in this office when our economy gets back to the 2008 level. And when it does, the mayor will have a government that is leaner, more efficient and built for the future.”
— Zach Patton
Photo by Stan Kaady
Mayor Reed has become a national figure, speaking about his achievements and challenges he and his colleagues face. In this clip, he appeared on a roundtable on NBC's Meet the Press as part of a roundtable discussion.