From a City on a Hill to a Covenant of Responsibility
To my father, Junius Reed and mother, Sylvia Reed. Thank you for pouring so much of your lives into me and my brothers, so that we could all be here together today. To my stepmother, Dr. Rogsbert Phillips Reed, and to my brothers, Charles, Carlton, Tracy and my sister-in-law, Crystal, thank you with all of my heart.
To every resident of the City of Atlanta, thank you, for again, putting your faith in my leadership and for giving me the greatest privilege of my life, to serve as your Mayor. I love Atlanta and I want you to know that I never, never, take you or your support or your vote for granted, and understand that your trust, and your confidence is not a permanent condition, but something that must be earned and protected every day.
To the Council President, Ceasar Mitchell, members of the Atlanta City Council – thank you for your commitment to the public good. To newly-elected members Mary Norwood and Andre Dickens – I look forward to working with you both. To former members Aaron Watson and Lamar Willis – thank you for your service.
To Chief Judge Herman Sloan and the members of the City of Atlanta Municipal Court, you honor me by your presence and your commitment to making Atlanta a more just city.
I want to personally acknowledge Mayor Massell, Mayor Young, Mayor Campbell and Mayor Franklin for your collective work which forms the foundation for me and all who hold this office in the future. To the Jackson family, Mayor Jackson’s memory is always with us.
To the members of the faith community who are so ably represented today, to the Consular Corps, members of the civic community, business community, particularly the Atlanta Committee for Progress, distinguished public servants, good friends, all Atlantans, welcome.
To Mayors Willie Brown and Glendon Harris, thank you for traveling such a long way to be with me.
I cannot stand here today without recognizing the members of my team who worked tirelessly over the last four years to deliver concrete results for you. To my senior team, to all of my Commissioners – Thank You . . . .
Now, I want to start with a bit of good news. I want everyone here to know that I got every text, call, and e-mail message reminding me that President Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address was only fourteen (14) minutes long. For those of you who are advocates for brevity, message received.
Friends, four years ago we joined here together at a precarious time for our great city. We faced numerous challenges to the greatness of Atlanta- to its financial security, to the safety of its citizens and to the welfare of its most vulnerable. We met amidst a financial crisis that challenged our nation and our state in a way that had not been seen in generations. But despite all of that, it was still a moment of immense optimism – optimism about what we could do together as a community to meet those challenges, to overcome what divided us and to make this city great. With that in mind, four years ago I stood in front of you and asked you to join me on a journey, one that we knew wasn’t going to be easy, but one we knew was essential.
You did, and together we set out to climb the steep paths that we knew were necessary if we were to make Atlanta that “city on a hill”. Once again, today I stand here with an equal sense of excitement and enthusiasm as I begin my second term as Mayor of our capital city.
Along that journey, we did great things together, important and necessary things that steadied our city and made it stronger and healthier. Together, we embraced the four pillars of responsibility – the responsibility we have to address the problems of our past, to meet the challenges of our present, to embrace the opportunities of our future and to embrace one another in our sacred responsibility as a community of caring people.
First, embracing our responsibility to solve the problems of our past, we restored fiscal stability to our city, closing a $48 million dollar budget gap in year one and growing our city’s reserves from $7.4 million to more than $137 million, while also undertaking a comprehensive pension reform that will not only save the city $500 million over the next thirty (30) years but also arrested a $1.5 billion unfunded liability that, if left unaddressed, would have left our most vital resource, our city’s workforce, vulnerable and insecure about their financial futures. But unlike other places, where labor unions were bashed and employees were vilified, we reasoned together and found a way forward unanimously. Working with our federal partners at the EPA, we negotiated a thirteen (13) year extension of our water and sewer consent decree, and eliminated the need for four (4) new water rate increases as a result. We have improved the city’s bond rating from Standard and Poors, Moody’s, and Fitch in the general fund, water and sewer fund, and aviation fund. We balanced the city’s budget every single year in the worst economy in eighty (80) years. Just recently, we received an unqualified audit from KPMG, with no material weaknesses in the finances of our city. Most importantly, we accomplished all of this without raising your property taxes.
While other cities have turned away from the storm that is being felt in underfunded pensions across America, the City of Atlanta turned into it. And because we did what was hard and recognized that just surviving, leads to just surviving, we were able to create savings which put our city on stable footing and provided the seed-corn for critical investments which are now delivering a healthier harvest.
We immediately turned our focus to the most sacred responsibility of any city leadership, the present safety of our citizens. Over the past four years we reduced crime by 18 percent, hired more than 800 officers to bring the force to that long sought after goal of 2,000 officers and opened a video integration center with more than 2,300 cameras to help reduce and solve crime within our midst. But because we understand that it’s not enough simply to be tough on crime, we also decided to be smart on crime and identified the resources to open every recreation center in the City of Atlanta. Turner Broadcasting was the first company to step up and other businesses like Coca-Cola and Wells Fargo have helped fund more than $5 million dollars in private philanthropy. What are the results? Today, not only do we have thirty-three (33) recreation centers throughout our city – we opened four (4) Centers of Hope in partnership with The Boys & Girls Club of Atlanta, with six (6) more on the way. We now see more than 1000 young people during any given week and teen crime has been reduced by more than 25 percent during the last four years.
In assuming our responsibility for the future, we let the world know that Atlanta was open for business, and together we expanded economic opportunities for our city and our state. The business community has responded to our stewardship by voting with their feet, the Coca-Cola Company is moving its Atlanta IT center downtown, AT&T is moving its Foundry to the Georgia Tech campus, PulteGroup, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders moved to Buckhead, Athena Health, Inc. is moving to Ponce City Market in Midtown, and Porsche Cars North America is moving south to One Porsche Drive on the Aerotropolis Campus. And if you are having dinner with a friend from New York, and you are feeling a bit immodest, you can remind them that the New York Stock Exchange was just bought by Atlanta’s own Jeff Sprecher’s ICE. With the opening of the Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal and the strength of Delta Airlines, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport remains the number one passenger airport in the world. We are also now among the top ten (10) cargo airports in America. Working with Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons organization, we will soon break ground on a world class $1.2 billion dollar stadium that will keep the Falcons in downtown for another thirty (30) years. All of these decisions mean that thousands of jobs are coming back into the city, and we all know that the best program for a person in need is a well paying job.
2014 is going to be an exciting year with the Atlanta Beltline expanding westward with an $18 million dollar investment from President Barack Obama’s administration, along with the $47 million dollar grant that we previously won from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the Atlanta Streetcar. These investments will help us expand our ability to host the 42 million guests who visited our city in 2012, the largest number of visitors ever recorded and just 10 million less than the City of New York; we will also see the opening of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in June, with the College Football Hall of Fame opening in August.
We’ve also worked to make our city more tolerant, welcoming and inclusive. We have come from a city four years ago whose LGBT community was hurt and scarred by the city’s handling of the Eagle raid to a city that just scored a perfect 100 in the Municipal Equality Index of the Human Rights Campaign.
From today forward we are going to be a welcoming city for immigrants and foreign-born visitors. According to the latest census, Metro Atlanta has the second fastest growing foreign-born population in the country, after Baltimore. Our international community grew by almost 70 percent in the last decade alone. We are going to act like it by embracing the hopes and dreams of people from all around the world. We should lead in this space because inclusion is a part of our DNA, and so many of these individuals have talent that we need and dreams we can help launch.
Finally, I agree with President Clinton’s notion that when we choose cooperation over conflict – there is little we can’t accomplish together. That’s why my commitment to deepening the Port of Savannah has been unwavering. There is no economic development effort that is more important to this region and this state, and a bi-partisan approach with Governor Deal, Senator Chambliss and Senator Isaakson has moved this project along faster in three (3) years, than it had moved in the previous ten (10) years. When we get this done, and we will get it done, our city and our state will be well positioned to be the dominant economy in the southeast. That must be our goal and we will achieve it.
Let there be no doubt. I did not do these things – we did these things together - along our journey. And as a result, Atlanta is stronger, safer and more secure than it has been for sometime. But friends, our journey together is not yet finished, and today I am asking you to continue on this path forward, with the knowledge that the road ahead is different than the road behind us, and that our challenges are no less acute, and perhaps they are even more profound. Our charge is to push farther, climb higher, and pursue our vision of Atlanta as the beacon of excellence we know it can be.
In pushing further, it’s clear we are just beginning to undertake our responsibility to the future, and that this responsibility is, in many ways, the foundation of what we endeavor to do together as citizens bound together in common cause. The challenges we need to solve are no less complex than the requirements of our past, but overcoming them is required to achieve our success as a city and a region. People have always believed in Atlanta as a place where anything is possible, and our challenge is to continue to create a place where families and innovators and entrepreneurs actually come to make those dreams a reality.
After all of this, the central question becomes, “What are we going to do next? Where does your passion lie?”
While we have made some genuine progress in reducing crime, please know that I understand we have more to do. And that’s why we are going to double down on public safety, and continue to make sure that our fire department remains fully staffed with four (4) men and women on every truck and that our police department remains well-staffed and has the latest equipment and technology. But today, I am also calling on our county partners to do their part.
Too often in the City of Atlanta, the women and men of the Atlanta Police Department do their jobs and risk their lives as they arrest criminals only to find that they are summarily released. We must work together to bring an end to this practice because the citizens of Atlanta pay the lion’s share of the budget of Fulton County. It is not unreasonable to expect that criminals who have been arrested and convicted 30 or 40 times should be placed in jail and remain there. To show that it’s not about politics but about problem solving, I am prepared to begin a meaningful conversation about the use of the Atlanta City Jail, if it means that we can remove people from our midst who have opted out of the accepted norms of our community. I am not talking about a young man or woman who has made a mistake. I’m talking about someone who has been arrested and convicted for serious crimes 20, 30, or 40 times. For that, there is no excuse.
If we successfully partner in this effort, I believe we will achieve our goal of reducing crime from 18 percent to 25 percent by the end of our second term.
But because I believe in the politics of the soft and hard, we are also going to tackle the issue of incarceration and recidivism. While I am proud of the work of our police officers, I know that when we lock up our young men and women without offering alternatives, we also lock up their potential.
We must say to them, “If you put the gun down, we’ll put a book in your hands, we’ll put some work and a job in your hands, we’ll put a paycheck in your hands. We’ll work with you to put your future back in your hands.”
Prisoner re-entry is not simply a criminal justice issue nor is it simply a racial or poverty issue --- it’s a human rights issue, one that affects millions of individuals, families and communities across Atlanta and the nation. It is a cycle that contributes to the increasing unemployment, family destabilization and a disruption of the economic and social fabric of our city --- robbing us of ‘human capital’ that we simply cannot afford to lose. It’s time for us to do something about this –-- and we are. Over the next 100 days, we are going to take best practices from other cities and execute a plan around this pressing issue.
Next, we still have some very large infrastructure challenges we are compelled to address --- right away. As I stand here right now, the City of Atlanta faces an infrastructure backlog of more than $900 million. If we do not take this on, it will grow to be $1.1 billion and then to $1.5 billion and soon --- as almost occurred with our city’s pension system --- we will face a crisis we cannot solve.
Therefore, over the next year, I am going to appoint a blue ribbon panel, which will focus on eliminating waste within municipal government to make our government even more efficient and save more of your taxpayer dollars. This commission will have full staff support and is a vital step in preparing the city for a 2015 bond offering of $150 million to $250 million that will not require a property tax increase on our residents.
This bond referendum will expand our green spaces, and improve our roads, bridges and sidewalks, and we are going to ask the people of Atlanta for their full support. We are going to make the most significant single investment in modern times to improve the look, feel and experience of the city above the ground. Because we are just getting started.
We must now also turn our attention to the human capital of our city. Establishing Atlanta as a center of excellence in public education must be an absolute essential focus, and as your mayor, I want to help lead this city to a point where the phrase “educated in Atlanta” is a statement of admiration spoken across America. I commit to working with the Atlanta School Board and its new superintendent to make this ideal a reality.
We also need to invest in Atlanta’s growing reputation as a technology hub. The City of Atlanta needs to retain 75 percent of its technology and science graduates. I recently learned that only 50 percent of Georgia Tech grads stay in metropolitan Atlanta. These new contributors to our workforce are disproportionately high earners and create an ecosystem that attracts foreign and domestic direct investment and capital into the city. If we grow that by just 5 percent each year, we change Atlanta forever and can compete against the leading cities of America and the world.
But not every kid is going to go to Georgia Tech --- and that’s okay. At the end of the day, every young person who desires a post-secondary education should be able to get one --- regardless of income. And that brings me to the challenge, that will be known as the Atlanta promise which is simply this: We should make it our goal that in this decade, that any child who graduates from an Atlanta Public School with the grades to go to college should not be denied the opportunity to go because they can’t afford it. They do it in Kalamazoo, Michigan; we ought to be able to do it in the City of Atlanta. For those who doubt this is achievable, I would remind them of the author who says impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. For the sake of our children, we should dare, we should dare.
At this point in your tenure, you have a moment to reflect, and people often ask you after four years what would you have done differently. My response is an easy one, the transportation referendum. There was an extraordinary amount of good, honorable work done by many across party lines. But in the shadow of that failure, eighteen elected officials, black and white, Democrat and Republican, rural and urban, voted unanimously on a plan, and although the plan failed, people are still sitting in traffic. I remember the night of the referendum – every political consultant and friend I had told me not to go down to the hotel after we lost. I went anyway because so many people had worked so hard to move the region forward, to move the state forward. I went because I believe in the region. I said that night, and I will say it today, that that campaign is not over yet. We have to get back at it because the voters’ rejection of our approach does not absolve us from having the responsibility, indeed the obligation, to solve a problem that represents one of the most grave threats to all of our economic destinies. So will a future solution have to be smaller, more modest? Perhaps so, but doing nothing must not be the option.
We have a decision to make. Either we are going to be a region, or we are not. I believe that we must be a region. And if we choose not to be – we are choosing to enter a period of decline, because declining markets get declining investment and we understand that capital goes where it is needed and stays where it is well cared for. So while I may wish the Atlanta Braves had made a different decision, I will be at the game on opening day rooting for the Braves and rooting for the region.
But let me be clear, the property now occupied by the Ted will be remade in a fashion that never would have been possible with the stadium at the center of it. Both the 55 acre site which now hosts Turner Field and the 488 acre site at Fort McPherson will serve as powerful tools to insure that the city will be able to provide affordable living options for all of our citizens.
My advice is simple, believe in Atlanta. When we took office four years ago, Lakewood Fairgrounds was a vacant parking lot, now artists such as Denzel Washington are making movies there on the motion picture campus of EUE Screen Gems, and we now sit at the center of a growing multi-billion dollar motion picture and television business. When we took office, City Hall East was a 2 million square foot eyesore in the heart of one of our most important commercial corridors. Today, Jamestown Properties is investing $200 million dollars in a new Ponce City Market with hundreds of new jobs moving in; when we took office, the Streets of Buckhead was two abandoned holes in the ground of some of the most valuable real estate in the state. Today, the construction crane, the official bird of the City of Atlanta, has returned and Dean Oliver of Oliver McMillan is moving full steam ahead with a $500 million dollar development there. . . . The same is going to be true of Turner Field. Bet on Atlanta, it should be so, and it will be so.
Four years ago, you believed in me and I’ve tried not to let you down. All we have to do is keep believing in each other, keep leaning on each other, keep pushing each other and obstacle after obstacle is going to fall at our collective feet, and promise will meet achievement again and again. Four years ago, I asked you to come with me on this journey. Today, I stand here as a friend who has his shoulder to the same wheel as you, encouraging you on. In the moments when your shoulders get weary, remember that right on the other side of that feeling, that’s where greatness is, that’s where the city on a hill is, that’s where we are going. . . Let’s go Atlanta. We are just getting started.
May God’s blessings continue to be upon us.