Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed opened his last address to the Atlanta Press Club as mayor with a nod to the Donald Trump-inspired war against the media, saying “even members of the press need a hug.” By the time it was over, he had unleashed his own barrage of criticism at the city’s journalists.
Amid an ongoing bribery investigation that he said was the “toughest period of my administration,” the Atlanta Democrat said Tuesday that his top deputies face unrelenting pressure to stay focused on their jobs. He cast the probe, which has already netted two guilty pleas, as a positive agent of change for the city.
“We need to accept the Justice Department’s investigation as something that is doing the city a favor,” he said, “because if there’s a problem with our process we need to know it, we need to get to the bottom of it, and we need to punish any individual involved in wrongdoing.”
Reed expressed concern that the investigation could overshadow a two-term stint as mayor that he said has ushered in a new era of development and fiscal health for the state’s largest city.
“This isn’t just about me and my tenure as mayor. I’m going to be fine. This is about what all of us built together. That really is our challenge at this moment in time,” he said, adding:
“Even on the toughest days, I got my dream. My dream was to be the mayor of the city of Atlanta since I was 13 years old. The dog caught the car.”
The address had many of the hallmarks of Reed’s recent appearances: A fierce defense of his record, scathing criticism of some of the contenders running to succeed him in November – and a plea for reporters to turn their spotlight on those candidates.
“I think we’re going to keep watching the process play out and you all will burn away the people that shouldn’t be in the race,” he said, adding with a laugh: “Ya’ll haven’t even gotten started yet, you’re so busy with us. “
The tenor of the address changed when he was pressed on his response to critical reports of his administration, sometimes in the form of tweets or press releases. Reed quickly ticked off his social media following, arguing that he must use his own megaphone to push back on what he said was “TMZ” reporting.
“My advice to you is mutual. Your profession isn’t viewed any more unfavorably than mine,” he said to nervous laughter.
“I’m not going to go Trump on you because you’re not fake news. You're news. You are valuable. You are essential. But you’re entering in a world where you’re going to get it as aggressively as you’re giving it.”
He said he would make no apologies for his style or tone, saying his results speak for themselves.
“If y’all want someone else, get a new mayor. I want to be real clear. Everyone who is running for mayor could have run against me," he said. "Vincent Fort with all of that chatter. He had an open field with me. Mary Norwood, I was wide open. Cathy Woolard, I was wide open. We would have loved that campaign.”
(He has hosted a fundraiser for Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, though he has said that isn't an endorsement.)
Then he turned back to the bribery scandal, which he acknowledged again is taking a toll on his administration.
“We are having a moment of difficulty,” he said. “People are going to take their shots. Not a one of them can beat me. You all might not like me saying it, but the public likes it.”