Watching Kasim Reed on Sunday’s Meet The Press had to lift the spirits of President Obama’s reelection team, at least a little. Reed played the role of partisan attack dog infinitely better than his friend, Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker did on the same program last week. Booker, now infamously, questioned the President’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s leadership of Bain Capitol. But when his turn came Sunday, Kasim Reed squared his shoulders and lacerated Mitt Romney the way a campaign surrogate is supposed to. And he relished the moment, in fact barely waiting for NBC’s David Gregory to get the question out of his mouth. Of course, what he said was mostly rhetorical blather, but then again so were many of the comments of his Republican adversaries.
Kasim Reed is an interesting fellow. He’s hard not to like, and it’s hard not to admire his toughness and focus, if not his candor. When he was in the Georgia legislature, he was seen as smart and effective, even by Republicans. At the time, one GOP operative said “Kasim is a stand-up guy, you can always work with him.” In his short time as Mayor of Atlanta he has come to be seen as an emerging national figure, at least by two not insignificant institutions: the White House, which sees him as a defender and fundraiser; and NBC News, which keeps inviting him to sit in on Meet The Press.
He definitely has some things going for him, and is undeniably someone politicos should keep an eye on. But there are some chinks to his armor. One is his embrace and defense of a city procurement system that habitually rewards campaign contributors and entrenched business interests with city contracts. The city is girding itself for yet another round of lawsuits, this time in conjunction with the recent contract awards for concessions at Hartsfield/Jackson Atlanta Airport, “the busiest airport in the world.”
In what may or may not be a coincidence, many of the names behind airport concessions contracts and campaign contributions to Reed and other city officials, are also large contributors to President Obama’s reelection campaign. Needless to say, people are watching.
The Atlanta Airport has a 30-year plus history of sweetheart deals and so called “pay-to-play” contracting. Kasim Reed didn’t create that environment of course, but he is now knee-deep in it, with an opportunity to do something about it. But unlike his Newark, NJ counterpart Cory Booker, who instituted pay-to-play reform in his city, Reed hasn’t even tried to reform city procurement. He sees no need. And to hear him tell it, he sees no problems.
That’s a pretty big blind spot for an emerging national political player.