Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is widely expected to cruise to a second term in November. He faces two largely unknown competitors. And speculation has shifted to what he might run for next. Political experts say the answer could be the governor’s office or Congress but many questions remain.
When Reed launched his re-election campaign last month, he stressed he only wants to be mayor of Atlanta.
“I’m recommitting myself to Atlanta,” he said, standing on the steps of City Hall, an Art-Deco gem that’s served as Reed’s office since 2010.
“I don’t want any other job or to be doing any other thing.”
His current work place is a block from the place he spent 11 years as a lawmaker: the state Capitol.
Surrounded by supporters, Reed did let slip that not everyone was satisfied with his political career potentially ending in the mayor’s office.
“My mother is a little frustrated,” he told the crowd. “She believes I should be a Senator by now. But you know, she’s going to have to learn to live with disappointment.”
But while he’s vehemently denied higher aspirations, others say it’s a question of when, not if.
Andra Gillespie is a political science professor at Emory University. She says he could seek higher office, or snag an appointment such as a cabinet position.
“I think he’s always going to have some role,” she said in an interview. “Whether he plays the elder statesman or whether he goes onto another office, I doubt that mayor is the last we’re going to hear of Kasim Reed.”
And she says Reed could exit politics and then run again when Georgia Democrats have a better shot at winning statewide races.
Demographic changes in Georgia are expected to favor Democrats so the party could field a credible candidate for Governor as early as 2018.
If Reed won, he would be Georgia’s first African-American governor.
Gillespie says he’d also have a good shot at the seat held by U.S. Congressman John Lewis when he retires.
“It’s a place where he’s proven he can win votes,” she said. “And it would actually be an easier seat, since not all of Atlanta is in the district. So it would be something where, if he wanted it, he could make a case to the party that he should be the standard-bearer and scare off competition from other people who could potentially want that seat.”
Not everyone is sure Reed can make the leap.
William Perry is with the ethics watchdog group, Common Cause. He says the mayor went on the attack after his group questioned the awarding of contracts at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport and the use of public funds for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.
Perry says Reed takes any question as a personal attack, and that could undermine his political future.
“I don’t think this mayor has the temperament to run for higher office and be successful,” he said in a telephone interview. “There is absolutely no patience with anyone who disagrees with him no matter how factual or strong a policy position there may be on the other side.”
Reed has, nonetheless, built considerable support. For example, he has a close ties to Pres. Obama, and has appeared on the Sunday talkshow circuit, including NBC's "Meet The Press." And he already has a statewide following. He’s been one of the staunchest boosters of Savannah’s harbor deepening project.
That support may mean that Reed, a Democrat, could win votes from Georgia’s largely GOP business community.
Steve Green is chair of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and a Savannah businessman. He says at a talk Reed gave in Savannah, he received a standing ovation even before he spoke.
“I can’t recall an Atlanta mayor having spoken in Savannah in any recent time,” he said. “And I think the reception he received was pretty extraordinary for any elected official.”
Green says he doesn’t know what Reed will do after his second term. If Reed wins and finishes his second term, he will have served 19 years in elected office.
But on one point Green doesn’t hesitate.
“He would be a formidable candidate for Governor – by anyone’s measure,” he said.
Reed will find out about his next four years on Nov. 5.