Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed addressed how the city handled this week’s winter weather during a talk to the Atlanta Press Club Friday that capped off a tumultuous week. His appearance, scheduled months ago, was originally meant to focus on his second term priorities.
But overshadowing his plans for the next four years was Tuesday’s snow storm, which paralyzed city and state roadways. The storm forced thousands of Georgians to stay overnight in cars, mainly outside of the city limits.
Speaking to a packed crowd at the Capitol City Club in downtown Atlanta, Reed rebutted any notion that he was unapologetic about the poor preparation. Reed said the nature of the storm changed in the middle of the night on Monday, and even though the city had pre-treated the roads, it wasn’t enough and he was sorry about that. He announced that he would launch an internal review of what went wrong and adopt best practices from other cities.
But he declined to blame officials in the suburbs where many people were stranded, or anyone at the state level. He said from an operational point of view, it doesn’t make any sense to question how other officials responded. And he also said he himself, his team and the city’s residents will learn from the lessons afforded by this week’s storm.
“I’ll be okay. I will get through these next 4 to 5 days,” he said. “I can take the heat.”
Yet he bristled at any suggestion he didn’t feel badly about how things went or that he was gallivanting while the city’s residents suffered. During the Q&A, and then afterwards as he answered additional questions from reporters, he defended attending a lunch in his honor on Tuesday, and then later receiving a police escort to The Weather Channel so he could deliver a message that city residents should avoid the roads.
“I had already given the order to pre-treat the streets,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was at an awards luncheon, not doing my job.”
He added, “You can say a lot of things about me but nobody can say I don’t work hard,” speaking to a crowd of reporters after Friday’s lunch.
As Gov. Nathan Deal indicated in his press conference Thursday, this week’s storm is likely to change forever how Atlanta and Georgia respond to severe weather. Deal said he will declare a state of emergency even in instances when a real emergency isn’t likely to manifest.
And Reed echoed his political ally’s remarks. He said he will from now on announce publicly the city of Atlanta is closing, and any entity that doesn’t follow suit will have to justify the decision. He also said new weather patterns will force him and the city’s residents to view winter weather differently.
“We will adjust. We understand the effects of climate change,” he said as he wound down his 30-minute talk. “I won’t rely on the fact that it will be another 10 years before a terrible snow event.”
He continued, “The deal is changed forever and I believe it is largely because of the results of climate change. I think the weather patterns are going to change. I think we are going to see more snow, more severe weather events. I got the message loud and clear and I’m going to act like and do something about it.”
He also made announcements about what he plans to do in his second term. He said he will push to extend a planned streetcar line to the Atlanta Beltline, a 22-mile former rail line that’s been converted to a walking and biking path. He also said he’s working to secure private financing for a light rail line on the Beltline.
“I’m ready to go,” he told reporters and other attendees. “I’m not tired at all.”