Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been in the media spotlight in recent days for a trip taken in May to South Africa.
At issue is the trip’s $90,000 price tag for eight people (including security team members) over three days, the bulk of which was reportedly spent on business-class airfare.
In a news story, WSB called the mayor’s office out on the cost, after which Mr. Reed took to Twitter to shame the investigative reporter for doing the story on July 18, what would have been the 99th birthday of the late South African President Nelson Mandela, who died in 2013.
— Kasim Reed (@KasimReed) July 18, 2017
Mr. Reed’s office said that a “nongovernmental source” will cover the difference between coach and business-class tickets. That was the plan all along, according to Jenna Garland, a spokeswoman for the mayor.
“We will share the details of the non-governmental donation to cover a portion of the expenses when it begins the legislative process,” Ms. Garland said.
Those sympathetic to the mayor might point out that the 16,000 air miles from Atlanta to Amsterdam to Cape Town — the route he took — is a 21-hour trip, even with the quickest of connections. So the need for leg room is understandable. But for critics, $10,000 for the mayor’s ticket alone and nearly $13,000 for another city official, might just be too much.
Either way, the question lost in the critiques is what the mayor was doing there in the first place and whether it will benefit Atlanta. The mayor’s office answered the latter affirmatively, providing a long list of fruit from the trip.
Global Atlanta first reported on a new “cooperation agreement” between Cape Town and Atlanta last October. It’s not as if the idea of working together was completely new: As early as 1994 the cities talked about a potential sister-city relationship, which this pact stopped short of making official.
Both cities are now part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, and their collaboration was set to focus on race relations, urban agriculture, creative industries and more.
Additionally, Atlanta was selected as a partner on a new Center for American Studies for Africa, which looks at U.S.-African partnerships, urban growth and the creative and music sectors, where Atlanta shines as a hub for movies and hiphop. These links, and the history between the cities, was too much to waste, the city said.
“We have decades of ground work to link the dominant city in the Southeast United States with the leading city on the entire continent of Africa. Failing to maintain these ties, and failing to take advantage of opportunities to strengthen cross-continental relationships, would be an incalculable loss,” Mr. Reed’s communications team told Global Atlanta in a written statement.
Mayor Reed had visited South Africa before with Ambassador Andrew Young, but the trip had been cut short before visiting Cape Town.
“I have a mission to finish the second leg of the trip,” he said to laughter from the small crowd assembled in his ceremonial office when hosting Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille in October.
Upon his arrival on the reciprocal venture, Mr. Reed and his counterpart participated in a dialogue on “Empowered Cities” at the U.S. Consulate General’s American Corner, a newly remodeled, tech-centric space that boasts an iPad bar, computers, a maker space studio and more, geared toward hosting programs that focus on entrepreneurship and technology. It will also host courses on coding, journalism, media production, as well as events for the Young African Leaders Program, of which Atlanta has been a host over the past four years.
Mr. Reed visited the Cape Town office of Atlanta artistic collaborative SnakeNation, which helps entrepreneurs and content creators monetize their work. Named after a seedy area of Atlanta burned down by concerned citizens in 1851 (now Castleberry Hill), the group’s curriculum will form the basis for a new course at the Atlanta Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative.
During that visit, the group was slated to hear presentations on girls’ coding program GirlHype (which will be used at the Atlanta Centers of Hope) and financial technology accelerator Barclays Rise (keying in on another industrial strength for Atlanta.
The itinerary also included visits to:
- GreenCape, a green-economy nonprofit
- A solar powered housing project
- Oranjezicht City Farm
- Welcome reception with U.S. Consul General Teddy Taylor and Charges d’Affairs and then-Acting U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Jessye Lapenn
- Vergenoegd Low Wine Estate
- An art viewing and reception to be attended by former state president Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last of the apartheid era, who worked with Mandela to end the practice and won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize. There, Mr. Reed unveiled a painting of Mandela and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, according to his Twitter feed.
- Visit to Bandwidth Barn, a tech center launched by the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative
- Visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years
Mr. Reed would again see Cape Town’s Ms. de Lille a little more than a month later in Brussels, where they participated as board members in the first meeting of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, a group of 7,400 cities that have committed to reducing global warming. The group took on new urgency after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.
Perhaps next time, business class or not, the mayor will be able to visit with a nonstop flight from Atlanta.
Airport General Manager Roosevelt Council has told Global Atlanta that Cape Town is among his top priorities for route development. Atlanta already has a link to Johannesburg, South Africa on Delta — one of the longest nonstop flights in the world. Delta has operated service from New York to Cape Town in the past.
The full statement from the Mayor’s communications team on the collaborations engendered by the trip is posted below:
Six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world today are found on the African continent. For the past two years, Mayor Reed and the Office of International Affairs have worked to advance a strategy to make Atlanta the preferred gateway to the Americas for African nations.
The strategy began with a trip to Johannesburg, followed by hosting Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille last year, then the Mayor’s trip to Cape Town this May, in addition to intentional person to person contact. The Mayor’s Office has hosted the exceptional young women and men of the Young African Leaders Initiative for the past three years, as an example.
Because of our history and our city’s civil rights legacy, Atlanta holds a special status for many people across the continent of Africa, especially in South Africa. When he was Mayor, Ambassador Andrew Young worked to deepen ties between Atlanta and Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa. We have decades of ground work to link the dominant city in the Southeast United States with the leading city on the entire continent of Africa. Failing to maintain these ties, and failing to take advantage of opportunities to strengthen cross-continental relationships, would be an incalculable loss.
Currently, Delta has direct routes with Lagos, Nigeria, and Johannesburg, South Africa. Expanding the number of direct routes would afford Atlanta greater opportunities to grow ties with areas experiencing tremendous economic growth, in the same way the new direct route from Atlanta to Shanghai, announced earlier this week, offers new opportunities between our city and China.
FDI Intelligence Magazine recently ranked Atlanta a top city in the world for foreign direct investment in its 2016-17 Global Cities of the Future list. According to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Metro Atlanta is already home to approximately 2,500 international facilities employing nearly 135,000 people. The entire metropolitan Atlanta region is a magnet for Foreign Direct Investment, bringing new jobs and capital – but this did not happen by accident. Mayor Reed believes in taking advantage of every opportunity to strengthen our global reputation because increasing our international ties and our global presence leads to a stronger, more vibrant economy and a thriving cultural community.”
Here are just a few examples of positive outcomes from the trip:
The first stop on the trip itinerary was a visit to SnakeNation, a social and creative entrepreneurship hub hosted out of a Barclay’s innovation center in Cape Town. SnakeNation also has an Atlanta space, located in Castleberry Hill. It’s run by Karl Carter, a businessman who helps creative and socially conscious entrepreneurs develop their businesses. SnakeNation has designed a curriculum focused on teaching creative entrepreneurs to monetize and control their content.
The Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI) is in the final stages of formalizing an agreement with SnakeNation to mirror its curriculum for creative entrepreneurs who participate in our program. Additionally, the collaboration between WEI and SnakeNation hopes to define a creative entrepreneurs exchange pipeline between Atlanta and Cape Town, with a goal of supporting the development of trans-continental startups.
WEI’s conversations with SnakeNation began around the time of Mayor Patricia De Lille’s visit; Mayor De Lille also visited WEI as part of her trip itinerary. Conversations have continued since then, with multiple exchanges around goals for WEI-SnakeNation partnership, and which led to the visit to SnakeNation being included in the itinerary for the May trip.
A visit to the Bandwidth Barn incubator was also included in the itinerary, again after months of conversations back and forth; Bandwidth has a program called Girl Hype to teach girls how to code, with a focus on smart phone apps. WEI is in talks with Bandwidth and Girl Hype to replicate this curriculum with the Centers of Hope here in Atlanta. Even more exciting is the potential to work with Tiffany Ray, the entrepreneur behind Generation InFocus, a STEAM education start-up in the first WEI class. Ms. Ray was the first WEI entrepreneur to receive outside funding through the Sara Blakely Foundation. WEI is leading conversations with the Department of Parks and Recreation to contract with Generation InFocus to provide the Girl Hype programming at the Centers of Hope.
We have more examples with the Mayor’s Office of Film and Entertainment. Atlanta and Cape town face similar challenges in further developing our film and entertainment industries. In both cities, we have tremendous below-the-line opportunities, but the folks who greenlight movies and make funding decisions are still largely in Los Angeles and New York. For the long-term growth and stability of the industry in Atlanta, we need to support the expansion of above-the-line opportunities. Chris Hicks, Director of the Office of Film and Entertainment, has had extensive conversations with his counterparts in Cape Town about their strategies to accomplish this; the challenge is largely around developing the right tools for public agencies and meaningful criteria for public support.
We are also working with a group from Cape Town who are interested in establishing a media-focused innovation center in Atlanta, which is another tool to build above-the-line opportunities in Atlanta.
The Mayor’s Office of Resilience has been in conversations with their South African counterparts about establishing an Institute on Climate Change, with a special focus on city-scale solutions. Trip participants also visited a green business hub that has developed a unique approach to public-private partnerships for municipal solar projects. The Office of Resilience is working to use this model for future City solar projects, which will be essential to meeting the goals of the recently-passed clean energy ordinance.