Kasim Reed took office Monday as Atlanta’s 59th mayor, vowing to help small business owners and young people and provide better customer service for citizens.
“We cannot face our future if we are facing off with each other,” Reed said.
The new mayor added later: “We need to make sure we aren’t a city that isn’t too busy to love.”
Reed, a 40-year-old Atlanta native, was sworn in to office at 1:21 p.m. at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center with his parents at his side.
The new mayor said during a 25-minute speech that he would immediately work to open all of the city’s recreation centers closed by budget cuts and announced that Turner Broadcasting System pledged to help.
In addition to Reed, Ceasar Mitchell was sworn in as the new City Council president. The 15 district council members were sworn in as were the city’s municipal court judges. Two of the judges, Crystal Gaines and Gary E. Jackson, accidentally fell from their chairs and off the stage toward the close of the ceremonies. City officials said they were not injured.
Monday’s inauguration activities were modest in comparison to the 2002 celebration for Shirley Franklin, the city’s first female mayor. Franklin’s inauguration included a ball. Reed said he didn’t want a ball, sensitive to the economic plight of many of its residents as the Atlanta region slogs through the recession. About one-quarter of Atlanta residents live below the poverty rate, U.S. Census figures show.
Even so, there was pomp at the swearing-in ceremony pleaded for the city’s new leadership to help the less fortunate. They spoke of the city’s many challenges, but as Massell noted, “it was considered the most difficult of times” when he took office in 1970.
Later, several hundred people waited in line at City Hall at an evening reception to meet the new mayor.
“We’re going to get through these times together,” Reed told the crowd.
The new mayor began his day with an interfaith prayer service at Ben Hill United Methodist Church in southwest Atlanta.
Reed won one of the closest elections in the city’s history. The former state lawmaker won a runoff against Mary Norwood by 714 votes out of more than 83,000 ballots cast. In September, one leading pollster showed support for Reed was jus 9 percent.
He campaigned on an ambitious, some said unrealistic, plan of increasing Atlanta’s police force by 750 officers in his first term. Reed, an attorney, vowed to tackle street gangs, violent crime and offer more programs for young people. Reed also said he would reduce the amount of money the city spent on pensions. Atlanta’s pension spending has nearly tripled since 2002, when the city doled out $36.4 million. Reed touched on all of those challenges in his speech.
The new mayor also promised to be tough on panhandling and to increase pay for police officers.
It was apparent that the honeymoon could be short for the new mayor and council. The council met at 4 p.m. Monday and frequent critic Dave Walker called Reed’s recent remarks on panhandling “irresponsible.”
“(Reed) needs to worry about getting these criminals off the streets,” Walker said.
Others said after the swearing-in that they were looking forward to working with Atlanta’s new leadership. DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis said he’s talked with Reed and Mitchell about working on longstanding regional problems such as water, transportation, funding for Grady Memorial Hospital and MARTA.
“We’re going to have to collaborate,” Ellis said.
Jesse Jackson said the new mayor is about to enter a period of “glory and agony.”
“There is glory of achievement and ceremony, but agony in a diminished tax base, and the demands of urban and rural reconstruction,” the civil rights leader said. “There has to be a plan to bail out cities.”
Reed challenged the crowd of about 4,000 people at the civic center to help him help the city over the next four years. He also said the city will assist its youth, but “we will demand more of you.”
The mayor said he will reform the city’s permitting department to make it easier to use.
“I will be known as the mayor of the small business person,” he said.
Reed ended his speech by saying he will work to make Atlanta “the city on a hill.”
“Come with me,” he said. “We will win. Our journey has just begun.”
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