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Kasim Reed Focuses on Crime in Atlanta Mayor Election


ATLANTA – Fears of increased crime in American cities are having a profound effect on the policies of mayors from New York to Seattle. In Atlanta, he had the power of resurrection, delivering a resuscitating jolt to the once-dying career of one of the South’s most polarizing public figures.

Kasim Reed, the former Atlanta mayor who fell off the political map in 2018 amid a constant drop of scandal in his administration, has returned to the limelight with an unlikely candidacy for a third term and is now a candidate prominent in a cluttered area of ​​lesser importance. – known suitors.

The overwhelming focus of Mr. Reed’s second act is the disturbing increase in violent crime in Atlanta – and the promise that only he, alone, can fix it.

“I am the only candidate with the experience and background to deal with the upsurge in violent crime in our city,” he recently wrote on Twitter, featuring a new campaign ad in which he called public safety “job # 1.”

Echoing moderate Democrats like Eric Adams, winner of this summer’s Democratic primary in New York, Mr Reed vows to strengthen law enforcement in a way that accommodates grassroots demands for cultural change in maintaining order. He promised to add 750 officers to the Atlanta Police Force. “But we’re going to train them in a post-George Floyd way,” he said in a recent TV commercial.

Most of Mr. Reed’s main opponents in the non-partisan race identify as Democrats, and most also offer a version of this message, which is markedly different from the police fundraising rhetoric that emerged from progressive activists during street protests of 2020.

Mr Reed’s fate at the polls in November may also indicate how willing voters are to ignore politicians as long as they think they could win a minimum of peace and order. His tenure was defined by a sharp-edged style that some have called intimidation, and by several scandals involving bribes, theft of public funds and weapons violations, among others.

Felicia Moore, president of the city council and one of Mr Reed’s main rivals for mayor, wants voters to give serious thought to the series of bribery cases involving members of his administration. “Leaders should take responsibility for the actions of their administration,” she said. “He was the head of this organization.

But in Atlanta, crime is increasingly taking center stage. The number of homicides investigated by the Atlanta Police Department rose from 99 in 2019 to more than 157 in 2020, a year in which the United States saw its largest single-year increase in homicides on record, and in Atlanta , this year is about to be worse. . Some homicides have particularly horrified residents over the past year: an 8-year-old girl was shot dead in a car she was in with her mother last summer. 27-year-old bartender kidnapped at gunpoint and killed on her way home from a shift last month. A 40-year-old woman was mutilated and stabbed to death, along with her dog, as she walked late at night near Piedmont Park, the city’s iconic open space, in July.

“They are more random and occur all over town at all times of the day,” said Sharon Gay, a mayoral candidate who noted she was assaulted about 18 months ago near her home in the well-heeled neighborhood of Inman. To park.

The political ramifications extend beyond the mayor’s office. Republicans in Georgia began campaigning with dire warnings about violence in liberal Atlanta – even as cities ruled by both Democrats and Republicans have seen an increase in violent crime. Governor Brian Kemp has spent millions of dollars funding a new “crime control unit” in the city. And the upscale Buckhead is threatening to secede from Atlanta primarily over concerns about crime, a move that could be disastrous for the city’s tax base.

Some critics accuse the current mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, of failing to adequately tackle the crime problem.

This spring, days before Ms Bottoms announced she would not be running again, Mr Reed claimed crime had reached “unacceptable levels” that “were fracturing” the city. This was widely interpreted as a turn on Ms Bottoms, his former protege, and a sign that Mr Reed was planning a comeback.

When it came, it was with a heavy dose of glamor.

“The fate of the city of Atlanta is at stake,” Mr. Reed said at a star-studded night at the Buckhead Mansion of Tyrese Gibson, the actor and musician. “Atlanta, say LA, say New York, say Charlotte, say Dallas, say Chicago and definitely say Miami – I’m back!” Within weeks, he had raised around $ 1 million in campaign contributions.

Yet the idea that Atlanta would be better off if it could go back to the days of 2010 to 2017, when Mr. Reed was in office, is deeply divisive. Mr. Reed takes credit for reducing crime over the years and boasts of recruiting hundreds of police officers.

FBI statistics show that violent crime in the city declined from 2012 and continued to decline throughout Mr. Reed’s tenure, at a time when violent crime in the country was on a downward trend. which started in the early 1990s.

In fact, the total number of violent crimes per year continued to decline in Atlanta through 2020. But the high-profile nature of some of the more recent crimes has put many residents on alert, as have some short-term trends: In September, murders, rapes and aggravated assaults were all up from the same time last year.

Mr Reed, as mayor, could show both conviction and practicality: he fired the town’s fire chief after the chief published a book calling homosexual acts “vile” and he clashed with union protesters in pushing through reforms to address the city’s huge unfunded pension. responsibility.

However, investigations into scandals in Mr Reed’s administration have led to guilty pleas from the city’s former purchasing manager, his former head of contract compliance and Mr’s deputy chief of staff. . Reed. A former director of social services, a watershed management official and a financial director have also been charged and are awaiting trial.

In June, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, relying on court documents and campaign records, reported that Mr. Reed appeared to be under federal investigation for using campaign funds for personal purchases. Mr Reed, in an interview, said the Justice Department told his lawyers he was not under investigation. The US attorney’s office in Atlanta declined to comment.

In the interview, Mr Reed said he accepts responsibility for the issues under his watch and noted that after years of scrutiny, no charges have been laid against him. “I went through a level of control and security that very few people go through and survive, and I came out with my name clear,” he said. He suggested that racism may have been a reason for all the scrutiny he received.

Federal inquiries like those in Atlanta, he said, are “frequently directed against black political leaders, certainly as mayor.”

In a University of Georgia poll commissioned by The Journal-Constitution and conducted in late August and early September, Mr Reed was narrowly leading the mayoral race, with around 24% support. But about 41 percent of likely voters were undecided, and Mr Reed’s opponents hope to convince them there are better choices.

Some constituents are fed up with Mr. Reed. Bruce Maclachlan, 85, is an owner who lives in Inman Park near where Ms Gay was assaulted. Corruption, he said, seemed “to be circulating around Kasim Reed. It makes you think. “

Mr Maclachlan said he voted for Ms Moore, the city council chairperson who was right behind Mr Reed in the poll with around 20 percent support. He said she appeared to be honest and free from scandal.

Robert Patillo, a criminal defense attorney, had a keen eye on the problem of crime. In the past few months, her sister’s car has been stolen, her laptop has been stolen from her car, and a friend’s house has been broken into.

“I think everyone has been touched by this,” he said.

Mr Patillo said he too voted for Ms Moore, who he said would be more trustworthy and better able to balance tackling crime with a civil rights agenda. But he said he understood Mr. Reed’s call. “When people are afraid,” he said, “they become a strong man again. “

Pinky Cole, the founder of Slutty Vegan, a cult local restaurant chain, had a different point of view. Ms Cole, one of the city’s best-known young African-American entrepreneurs, said Mr Reed had helped her with the legal issues facing her business.

For Ms Cole, crime issues and the city’s business climate were intertwined, a sentiment common in Atlanta these days, but one that touched her particularly: in recent months, she said, two of its employees were shot dead, one of them fatally.

Despite the baggage of corruption cases, she believed Mr. Reed was a man of integrity. And she saw how he had already made the city safe.

“I am convinced,” she said, “that he will do it again. “





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