As the last few minutes of Georgia’s busy legislative session ticked off the clock, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was hanging out with Gov. Nathan Deal and his staff to watch the action unfold.
It may not sound unusual until you think about the fact, in this era of hyper-partisan rhetoric, that Deal is a conservative Republican and Reed a key Democratic ally of President Barack Obama.
The friendship between Deal, 70, and Reed, 43, has its roots in a shared interest in economic development and has blossomed into a powerful political alliance that is already paying dividends with a number of major corporations heading to Atlanta and neither man yet to face a significant re-election challenge.
The mayor and governor frequently appear together at events, introduce each other as ”my friend” and praise each other’s accomplishments. The two recently joined U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to talk about the benefits of early childhood education.
A few days earlier, they shared the stage at a conference and spoke about their friendship. Reed noted his office was just 300 steps or so from the governor’s office at the Capitol, ”but you would have thought in Georgia over the last 30 or 40 years, regardless of party, that walk was a 10K.”
In fact, when Deal walked to City Hall for a news conference earlier this year to announce a deal on funding a new NFL stadium, his staff was told a governor hadn’t been across the street in 30 years. Reed, who runs the state’s largest city, with 423,000 residents, said there are a number of issues on which they find common ground. The two traveled to Washington to lobby the Obama administration on behalf of a project to deepen the Savannah River port, which Reed argues is essential to Atlanta’s success as a global business hub with companies including Home Depot and UPS.
”We don’t have time to play games, and we don’t play games with each other,” Deal said.
There are mutual benefits as well. Reed offers the Republican governor access to a Democratic president’s administration, and Deal offers the Democratic mayor an important relationship with state leaders making decisions that affect the city.
A critical moment came in 2011 when the state was looking to persuade Porsche to stay in Georgia and build its new North American headquarters in Atlanta. Deal had recently taken office, and the project quickly became a top priority for him and the mayor, who had a site in mind near Atlanta’s airport, the world’s busiest. It became clear to Porsche’s leadership that not only were the governor and mayor communicating, they were speaking in one voice.
”You could tell from their interaction that these were not two people who had to be nice to each other,” said Joseph Folz, general counsel for Porsche Cars North America Inc. ”This was a far smoother negotiation process than any prior site search for which I have been involved. I do think that is because every organization gets its character from the top.”
Folz credited Deal and Reed’s partnership with the confidence to move forward and said company officials have shared their positive experience with others in the business community.
State Rep. Calvin Smyre, a longtime Democratic lawmaker who has known Reed for years, said Reed is pragmatic and focused on being a ”responsive and progressive leader.” As mayor, Reed oversees a strongly Democratic city with a majority Black population in a state where all the statewide elected officials are Republicans.
”He believes in working across political aisles, across race relations and across cultural relations,” Smyre said. ”Mayors have to get things done.”