Kasim Reed, Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia,USA

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Kasim Reed
Mayor of Atlanta
By Andrew Stevens

29 March 2010: Following a stint in both houses of the state legislature, Kasim Reed was elected with a knife-edge majority to lead the Georgian capital Atlanta last December. A youthful 40, the New Jersey-born mayor made a name for himself in his adopted state’s politics with interventions over the issue of the state flag, religion in schools and gay marriage. Reed was ostensibly linked to the popular mayoralty of the city’s last leader, Shirley Franklin, who he replaced in January and whose first election campaign he managed.

Update November 2013: Kasim Reed re-elected as mayor in the 5 November mayoral elections.

Though born in the New Jersey suburb of Plainfield, Reed was raised in Fulton County, Georgia and schooled at the Westlake High School locally. He then attended Washington DC’s Howard University, a private traditionally black university (as did DC mayor Adrian Fenty), where he majored in political science, later earning his juris doctorate from its school of law. During his undergraduate days he interned for Democratic congressman Joseph Patrick Kennedy II (son of RFK) and represented his fellow students on the university board, where he proposed a federally match-funded increase in tuition fees, which has since levered in millions of dollars for the college’s endowment. Following his graduation from law school in 1995, he went on to work for Atlanta’s congressman John Lewis, the former leader of the civil rights era Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Reed entered elected office himself in 1998 when he successfully contested the Democratic primary for the 52nd district of the Georgia House of Representatives, running uncontested in the November general election. Reed replaced veteran state legislator Henrietta Canty, who had stood down to run for state-wide office, and in his 2000 primary re-election bid successfully defeated her son Clarence, going on to win the seat again unopposed in the general election. The redistricting of the seat for the 2002 election saw him successfully stand instead for the state senate, for the 35th district, winning uncontested in each primary and general election since November 2004. During his time in the state legislature, Reed was active in the debate over biblical teaching in schools (contrary to the separation of church and state), pre-empting Republican manoeuvres to display the Ten Commandments in schools by piloting a bill to allow for teaching of The Bible’s broader historical influence in state schools. He also successfully countered a proposal to reinstate Georgia’s use of the Confederate Flag as the state emblem by working with Republican governor Sonny Perdue to limit the options in a public referendum in 2003 to two modern versions.

Reed’s involvement in Atlanta municipal politics extends back to his work as campaign manager for Shirley Franklin’s mayoral campaigns in 2001 and 2005. Following her first election, Reed led Frankin’s transition team, with responsibility for coordinating her agenda on entering office and advising on suitable picks for her team. As Franklin was term-limited ahead of the city’s 2009 mayoral election, Reed announced in March 2008 (one month after his endorsement of Barack Obama for Democratic presidential nominee) the creation of an exploratory committee to run as mayor, which he then upgraded into a formal campaign committee that summer. Franklin eventually went on to serve as co-chair of the 2008 Democratic Convention. Reed resigned from the state senate in September 2009 in order to run for mayor.

In the election proper that November, Reed vied with city councilwoman Mary Norwood for the opportunity to replace the outgoing Franklin as mayor, with the ballot going to a run-off a month later. Norwood, standing on a platform against the previous mayor’s record in office, had secured the plurality of votes in the first round (46%) but not enough to avoid a run-off, which Reed proceeded to win. If elected, Norwood would have been the first white mayor of the predominantly black city for over a generation, though the result was nail-bitingly close and Reed’s election night triumphalism proved somewhat premature when the recount lasted for nine days and Reed’s margin of victory was a mere 714 votes. Reed himself encountered some criticism during the campaign for his socially conservative (for a Democrat) stance on gay marriage, supporting same-sex unions but not full marriage. This stance marks him out from many other big city mayors, who have largely championed gay marriage in contrast with national politicians.

Prior to becoming mayor, Reed acted as vice chair of the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus and was a partner at the Holland & Knight LLP law firm. Though Reed’s first given name is Mohammed, he is a congregant of the United Methodist Church.

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