At the end of a rough week during which two inches of snow and ice brought Atlanta, the traffic hub of the Southeast, to a virtual standstill, the city’s mayor, Kasim Reed, regained his public footing and some of his humor.
Speaking at a prescheduled luncheon of the Atlanta Press Club on Friday, Jan. 31, during which he was supposed to give a ‘State of the City’ sort of speech, the main topic inevitably was the city’s and the state’s responses to “Snow Jam 2014” that left thousands of motorists stranded, some for as long as 20 hours.
Before he was done at the Capital City Club downtown, however, he attempted to dilute some of the worst criticisms of the fiasco with upbeat news by citing an AT Kearney ranking of the city as the 35th most “global city” in the world, and its inclusion in the top 30 for foreign investment.
He referred to the sale of the Marriott Marquis downtown for $293 million to an unnamed sovereign wealth fund as a positive, showing the city’s continued interest to overseas investors.
He praised the city’s street car project and promised that light rail eventually would be linked to the BelLine, an initiative to create a ring of parks and open spaces that he joked was “more popular than I am.” “It used to be funny, now it’s true,” he quipped.
And he underscored his efforts to create jobs and reduce inner city poverty.
Among these, he cited negotiations as potential job creators with Turkish Airlines and British Airways to move their North American cargo headquarters to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and the city’s plans to acquire Fort McPherson, a former Army headquarters that was closed in 2011.
He said that both Fort McPherson and the area around the Braves’ baseball stadium, which is slated to torn down once the team moves to Cobb County, are to be developed with affordable housing in an effort to guarantee a balance of wealthy and poor residents in the city.
He also announced that the city would be studying the ways that Silicon Valley has managed to grow its promising startup companies as a means of keeping more Georgia Institute of Technology students here once they graduate.
Given the city’s trauma of the past few days, however, these issues remained primarily background noise, and the mayor plunged into his address by first challenging a news report that he was unapologetic about the city’s response and acknowledging that mistakes were made.
With more snow expected before winter’s end, he quickly outlined a five point action plan highlighted by a to-be-announced appointment of an “emergency management executive,” who will be assigned to develop plans for wide ranging threats including not only inclement weather but terrorist threats as well.
Mr. Reed also said that he would recruit a special task force with input from the Atlanta-based Weather Channel and Hartsfield to assure that Atlanta would become “a weather-ready city.”
He is going to develop a protocol to stagger the dismissal of students, government workers and business workers in an effort to prevent the sort of gridlock experienced earlier in the week. And, he is going to ask for the City Council to purchase spreader-trucks that spew sand and salt.
He then loosened up with a reference to Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart’s yuks that Atlanta, home of the Weather Channel, had been brought to its knees by two inches of snow.
And he admitted that he was relieved to recently have been re-elected, not mentioning that Gov. Nathan Deal who also has been on the firing line for the state’s response to the storm, has an election coming up.
The mayor justified the long-term focus of his action plan on grounds that climate change is now a fact of life and that the South could only expect the sorts of winter storms generally associated with the North.
“About the only thing I was happy about the weather coverage is that they kept saying this is the ninth largest metropolitan area in America. It was like, man, I had to get snowed on to have that,” he said before turning to the topics he was originally prepared to discuss.