Everyone knows those folks who want to get elected will make promises they later shrug off with the same speed as they hand off squirming toddlers during campaign season.
So imagine the cynical overload when the AJC’s Truth-O-Meter read this absolute in a recent press release from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed:
"He’s kept every promise he made as a candidate, including re-opening the city’s recreation centers, reforming the city’s pension plan, standing up a force of 2,000 police officers and not raising property taxes," the release claimed.
Reed’s press office couldn’t provide a list of his campaign promises. But those headline-grabbing pledges have been kept:
- Reed pushed a pension reform through City Council to help Atlanta pay off a $1.5 billion liability and save taxpayers $25 million a year.
- Reed used $4.3 million of that freed up cash to re-open 22 recreation centers shuttered in 2008 due to budget constraints.
- The city millage rate – approved by Council based on the mayor’s recommendation – has fallen during Reed’s tenure, from $10.24 for every thousand dollars of assessed value to $9.75.
- Atlanta’s police force reached 2,000 officers in October 2013, with Reed credited for the achievement by pushing for new positions and pay raises.
"The mayor does give credit to the council for getting a lot of his ideas done and passed," said Reed spokeswoman Anne Torres. "He realized in order to get the city in the right direction, and fulfill his promises, he really had to get Atlanta on proper financial footing."
We could nitpick since Atlanta had just 1,971 officers on the force this week, as it struggles with the same churn other local law enforcement agencies face.
But PolitiFact Georgia wants to be more skeptical than cynical. So we dug into press coverage during Reed’s 2009 campaign and found smaller promises that need some explaining:
- Cut the amount the city spends on outside attorneys
City records show Atlanta spent $12.8 million for outside counsel in the fiscal year 2014, which ended in June. That’s about 9 percent less than 2009’s $14 million bill.
- Re-open Fire Station 7 in West End
The fire station remains closed. But a 2013 press release announced Reed’s plans to renovate the city’s oldest station.
The city has spent $2.5 million so far on design work for the station, built in 1910. Torres said the fire department is preparing bids for the full renovation, expected to take a year once the city selects a contractor.
- Reduce employee overtime
Employee overtime cost the city $12 million in OT in 2014, an 88 percent increase from overtime bill in 2009, the last year before Reed took office.
Torres notes, though, that 2009 was a year of furloughs and layoffs because of the city’s financial woes. Reed’s promise was based on the 2008 tab, of nearly $18 million, she said. Looking at it that way, Reed cut OT by 39 percent.
- Cut the city’s IT budget
The city budget shows a 13 percent increase in IT spending: $25,242,270 in 2009 and 28,544,187 for the fiscal year that began July 1.
Hans Utz, the city’s deputy chief operating officer, said Atlanta had long put individual departments’ IT costs in those department budgets – not the overall information technology budget.
That artificially inflated department budgets, Utz said. Starting in 2013, the city began shifting all IT costs to that department and saving by buying in bulk.
The move increased the IT budget by $3.3 million but decreased other department budgets by $5.6 million – a $2.3 million net reduction, budget records show.
So, would accepting those explanations mean giving Reed too much leeway to keep his promises?
Not necessarily. Politicians tend to keep promises more than you might think, said Kerwin Swint, chairman of the political science department at Kennesaw State University.
Blame – sigh – the media for implying candidates don’t at least try, according to Thomas Patterson’s 1993 book, "Out of Order," Swint said. It cites four studies of seven presidential campaigns and found once elected, presidents keep the promises they made as candidates.
"In general, politicians try to keep their promises because it’s in their best interest to do so," Swint said. ""From their point of view, they can’t wave a magic wand and make things happen. There is a process, and that can seem like foot-dragging to critics."
Or, we concede, to cynics. So while there is a window for promises we may not know Reed made when he ran for office, the pledges big and small appear at least in process, if not done.
We rate Reed’s statement Mostly True.