Last Wednesday, a few hours after a vote recount had sealed his status as Atlanta's mayor-elect, Kasim Reed dropped into a local bar. But he wasn't there to celebrate his victory.
Reed was making a personal appearance at a small fundraiser for an Atlanta police officer who'd suffered spinal injuries in a car crash while on duty. As he mingled with the cops in a private room at Manuel's, Reed's cell phone rang, but no number popped up, so he didn't answer.
Within minutes, Reed was informed by excited aides that he'd accidentally blown off a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama.
"I guess you gotta know that when it says 'unknown caller,' it could be the White House," he says a little sheepishly as he recalls the oversight.
But Atlanta's next mayor has no time to dwell on lost opportunities. Save for a few more minutes of sleep here and there, Reed's post-election schedule nearly matches the breakneck pace of his come-from-behind campaign. Since the night of the Dec. 1 runoff, his days have been a blur of community meetings, business breakfasts, press conferences and interviews with the private-sector achievers Reed aims to lure into joining his administration – one he promises will be staffed by the best and brightest.
Some of those conversations have been successful: His choice for the city's chief operating officer is Peter Aman, managing partner of the Atlanta office of Bain & Co., a global consulting firm that specializes in advising Fortune 500 companies. Others, not so much: After serving for months as a punching bag for the Mary Norwood campaign, Jim Glass, the city's highly regarded chief financial officer, politely opted to retire rather than accept Reed's invitation to stay.
By the time you read this story, Reed may have announced his pick for "pension czar," a top-notch financial wizard who will – fingers crossed – prevent the city from being swallowed in red ink, GM-like. That appointment will be one of many new hires that Reed believes will convince doubters he's serious about improving the management culture in City Hall.
"I'm going to bring in people who never would've considered working for government," Reed says. "I want to be judged on the quality of my selections and my performance."
Reed also hasn't afforded himself the luxury of holding grudges.
Although he and City Council President Lisa Borders were often at odds during mayoral debates, he says he grew to appreciate her intelligence, communication skills and dedication to public service.< p>"Lisa can have her pick of opportunities within the administration," he says.
Reed says he also plans to offer Norwood a "high-profile role" in the city, despite their bruising runoff battle that had its share of nasty moments.
Keeping former rivals so close would worry some politicians, because it increases the difficulty of getting away with anything unscrupulous. But Reed says that's the idea.
"My administration is going to have so much openness and transparency, it'll be frightening."
A serious man
These days, Reed is doing a lot of smiling, and it's not simply because of the election results.
During his 11 years as a state lawmaker, Reed was widely considered to be accessible, fair-minded and forthright, but you'd hardly say he was jolly. Where some politicians win over a room with glad-handing and friendly asides, Reed strives to reach people through the strength of his argument. Even in private conversation, he seldom strays from the formal, deliberate phrasing that's served him well as a corporate attorney.
Midway through his campaign, Reed's advisers delivered the bad news: Focus groups found him to be too sober-sided, even angry. To some, he seemed arrogant. In other words, he was the guy nobody wanted to have a beer with.
Reed, who turned 40 in June, realized he needed not simply to project a different image, but to consciously change an aspect of his personality.
"When you've done the stuff I do at the pace I do it, it tends to harden you," he says. "But people don't give a damn about what you know if they don't think you care."
Borders, for one, noticed his subtle transformation.
"In this environment, you need to be able to feel people's pain, and at first I thought Kasim wasn't empathetic," she recalls. "But as we spent more time together on the campaign trail, I saw his warmth. It really kicks in when he's dealing with young people. He cares about making sure they have the opportunities to reach their potential."
Reed, as you may have heard, is a bachelor with no children. But this bachelor is careful that no article describes him as "available."
"If that showed up in print, I'd be in a world of hurt," he says, referring to his girlfriend of two years whose name he's scrupulous about keeping private. Still, he opens the door to the possibility that he could get married before the end of his first term.
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