Thomas Friedman is said to be a brilliant man. He writes very well. But sometimes he’s completely wrong. His facts are sloppy. His word choice is misleading. In truth, sometimes his column reads as though the man is the victim of the last person he talked to, and that person must have been a flack who chatted him up over a very good lunch.
When Friedman’s column about Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was published in the New York Times yesterday it appeared that maybe the lunch with a flack had been the two-hour and four-martini kind, and the flack had been from the mayor’s office.
“The day he took office,”Friedman writes. “Atlanta had $7.4 million in reserves, an out-of-control budget and was laying off so many firefighters there were only three personnel on a truck, below national standards. A year later, it has $58 million in reserves, and Reed has a 70 percent approval rating — which he earned the hard way.”
If Friedman knew one thing about the City of Atlanta’s finances he would know better than to count the reserve before the end of the fiscal year. It’s funny the things we end up using that reserve for. People who work in City Hall know from experience that the City’s so-called “reserve” isn’t a reserve at all because ultimately the City government looks at it as a source of funding.
Second, even publications in Atlanta have quoted the “70 percent approval rating” without attributing it. These are respectable news outlets, but quoting survey results as if they are gospel without any explanation of the rating is strictly bush league. Who says he has a 70 percent approval rating? Who did the survey? Of how many people? When was it done? Was it conducted in the city limits of Atlanta among actual residents and taxpayers?
Or was it the typical 404 area-code phone survey that would take in people who don’t have to live under the outrageously inept policies Reed has put in place? I want to know more about this approval rating. What were the questions asked?
Lunch with the flack must have been evocative of the fall of the Russian tsars or perhaps innocents fending off the union toughs of a 1930s New York, or maybe even Reagan, the Great Communicator himself, ordering the air traffic controllers back to work in the 1980s; whatever it was that spiced Friedman’s salad somehow softened his usually sharp mind and prompted him to write an outright lie regarding the mayor’s pension negotiations: “When union picketers swarmed City Hall to protest, Reed invited them all into his office—in shifts—where he patiently explained…”
Unlike Friedman, I was actually at City Hall the day the pensions were on the block. There was no “swarming” by union picketers. The local chapters of AFSCME and PACE have been in utter disarray for two years and couldn’t possibly swarm City Hall in a way that looked like anything organized—labor, or otherwise. The firefighters were worried but were represented by Lt. Jim Daws, president of the local chapter of IFFA, who spoke with the mayor privately and there wasn’t a big stink. I don’t recall the cops’ union even bothering to show up.
Hundreds of general employee union members turned out last June to lobby to get a raise since both the firefighters and cops were getting raises. Not only did Reed go along with the raises for general employees–actually bonuses–he increased them.
Whoever the City of Atlanta flack was who presented Friedman with this heroic tableau of Mayor Reed fending off the angry unions should be subjected to a drug test. The unions here are weak in a way that a New York columnist couldn’t possibly understand. They do not have collective bargaining power as they do up North (which in some ways is a blessing). They can grumble and make a public statement, but when push comes to shove they get both pushed and shoved. Sure the pensions take a bite out of the budget of the City of Atlanta, but the things that take an even bigger bite are the foolishness and cronyism.
Friedman, who will apparently swallow any line that’s conveniently and tastily fed him, says that Mayor Reed’s hiring of Peter Aman as chief operating officer was a break from cronyism. Yet, Aman was a friend of Mayor Shirley Franklin, having served on the boards of the Atlanta Committee for Progress and the Atlanta Police Foundation during her tenure. In that same period of time, the City of Atlanta worked closely with Aman’s company, Bain and Company, handing them consulting jobs over and over again.
Sometimes those jobs were pro bono, but as anyone who’s been in the political arena for long can tell you, nothing is ever really pro bono.
This is all information the lowliest intern at the most backwoods rag would have found simply by Googling Aman (it’s on Reed’s campaign Facebook page) and by making a call to the local unions and City Council members. Friedman could have requested video from the City’s Channel 26 and viewed those apologetic union workers—there were maybe two dozen at the most—who stood in the council chamber this fall and expressed their concerns that the mayor was making a new rule that workers in a certain category job could only belong to a certain union. There were lots of ways to find out the truth, but Friedman couldn’t be bothered. He has a book tour to do, and lots more lunches with flacks.
The pathetic reality of Atlanta’s general employee unions, their cap-in-hand attitude, would not have fit with his fabricated image of Kasim-Reed-as-fierce-union-buster, his “pay-as you-go progressive” as he called him.
Pay as you go? Reed pays off lawsuits by the millions as they go. He pays to travel on the public dime. With the City of Atlanta caught paying millions to a crony of Maynard Jackson’s for an airport contract she didn’t even manage, and having a federal judge say that was indeed the case, what steps has Reed taken to correct the situation? When the decision in the Corey lawsuit was announced, Reed’s response was that the City was looking into an appeal–apparently hoping to spend more taxpayer dollars in defending the City’s practice of squandering taxpayer dollars.
Reed cozies up to the same crowd his predecessors cozy-ed up to and it shows in the City contracts.
Pay-as-you-go? He pays for things we don’t need—millions for a trolley that serves no one with money he has squeezed out of small business owners like restaurateurs. The city is draining its residents with property taxes, parking fees and fines, license and permit fees that have doubled and tripled in cost, yet Friedman claims that Reed is a “pay-as-you-go progressive”? He’s nothing of the sort. He squeezes money out of his residents and businesses to meet the expenses he sets. He is a classic tax-and-spend liberal—not a progressive.
Reed did not cut the budget effectively, instead he planned a budget on real estate deals that have not yet materialized—Fulton County hasn’t so much as sniffed at the jail that was supposed to bring in $10 million in a sale to the county that Reed claimed wanted to buy it.
The only thing progressive about Mayor Kasim Reed is his progressively growing need for more and more money from Atlanta’s citizens and business owners. He did not cut so he could invest. It’s a crying shame that the New York Times has become so sloppy and so craven that it will promote the politics of anyone who will schmooze its columnist. SR