Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been in the headlines for his suspension, then firing, of Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran over a book on leadership that Cochran published. A portion of the book condemns the homosexual lifestyle on religious grounds. The mayor says the firing was justified because Cochran did not follow proper procedures before releasing the book. Cochran claims that he did everything he was supposed to do prior to the book’s release, and that the mayor was given a copy of the book over a year ago.
The issue has become intertwined with the effort to pass a version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act during the current legislative session.
One can argue whether it was proper for a senior Reed administration official to publish a book with content that could be seen as offensive to a portion of the city’s population. It’s clearly possible to make an argument for freedom of speech. But, just as important is how the mayor’s handling of the incident is seen from a political point of view. The New York Times covered the issue in a Monday story that included this passage:
If Mr. Reed ever ventures beyond Atlanta and into a race for statewide office, the incident could end up hurting him among rural, Christian whites, who, as a rule, tend to be wary of Atlanta politicians. But the mayor said that he had no regrets.
“I think it’s more important that I’m able to look myself in the mirror,” he said, adding: “In any future campaign I’ll be happy to talk about my record in office — and I’d be happy to talk about my termination of Kelvin Cochran.
The mayor’s fan club may be shrinking, even among those who don’t call themselves rural. The mayor has received hundreds, if not thousands of emails opposing his decision. Others have taken to tweeting their opposition of the firing to the mayor’s Twitter account, which typically gets them blocked, prompting another tweet denouncing the blocking.
Previously the mayor earned the respect, if not the support, of many on the Republican side of the aisle for his willingness to act as a team player by supporting the 2012 TSPLOST, or working with the Obama White House and Governor Deal to get the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project underway. Of course, the many of Chamber of Commerce types that supported the TSPLOST are the same ones who fear that passage of a religious liberty bill will harm the Peach State’s ability to attract businesses.
The mayor has been counted as a potential frontrunner for the Democratic ticket to replace Governor Deal in 2018. Whether the case of Kelvin Cochran helps or hurts his cause remains to be seen.