If you can’t balance the city budget, you can forget about tackling contentious issues like immigration, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said at the Chicago Forum on Global Cities last week.  

Mr. Reed said getting a city’s financial books in order has helped him gain the political capital to invest in other issues like raising the minimum wage for city workers, reopening recreation centers and building an office of immigrant affairs.  The city has also launched a Welcoming America initiative

“We’re a Southern city, so the politics are harder around immigration; the reason I think that people support it is because Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s are getting ready to come out with a report reaffirming our credit rating,” he said on a panel on poverty, youth and immigration. “That is the give and take; I call it the politics of the soft and the hard. If you don’t get those things right, the people who can stop you, they will.”  

The mayor also pointed to inclusion as the city’s calling card, saying “nobody would have even heard of the city of Atlanta” without its history of forward-thinking leaders. He contrasted it with Birmingham, Ala., which he said was more of an economic powerhouse in the 1960s but is now lagging Atlanta because it was stuck in its old ways.  

Mr. Reed also weighed in on law and order, noting that any city could have the type of racial flare-ups faced by Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and New York.  

“The question is how you respond,” he said. Transparency is key, balanced with avoiding the temptation to throw your police force “under a bus” because of a few bad actors, he said.  

In addition to having local elders that have walked the civil rights movement before, Atlanta law enforcement demographically reflects the population it serves. Atlanta’s police force is 56 percent black, nearly mirroring its 54 percent black population, he said.  

Asked about transportation by an employee of Atlanta-based CARE Inc. living in Chicago, the mayor pointed to demands by NCR Corp. and Mercedes-Benz  to be near transit in their relocations to Atlanta. 

While he cited the state legislature’s recent passage of $900 million in transportation funding as important, it’s the “jobs war” rather than political determinations that will push investments in transit, he said.  

Mr. Reed shared the stage with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne DuncanSalomón Chertorivski Woldenberg, secretary for the economic development of the federal district, City of Mexico City; George Martine, technical director, Dhemos Consulting; Cofounder, board of the Brazilian Population AssociationBoubker Mazoz, president and founder, Sister Cities AfricaRatna Omidvar, executive director and adjunct professor, Global Diversity Exchange, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University.

See more, including a video with the mayor’s full remarks, at: http://www.chicagoforum.org/agenda/inclusive-cities-poverty-youth-and-immigration#sthash.u7OJd4S6.IUFaW2Yr.dpuf.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...