“If I did what he did, I’d be ticketed or behind bars. It’s an abuse of his position."
— Melissa Runyan
On the morning of Nov. 2, Melissa Runyan was driving south on Peachtree Road, headed to work, when she caught sight of some blue lights behind her. She and three other cars pulled over to let the black GMC Yukon by, figuring it was headed to an emergency.
She noticed the Yukon flipped on its blue lights again at West Wesley Road, and a car eased onto the sidewalk to let it through.
But something seemed odd, Runyan thought. The SUV, while speeding up and switching lanes, was still getting stuck in the heavy rush-hour traffic. And the blue lights were strangely sporadic. If this is an emergency, why are they flipping the lights on and off?
Driving Peachtree before 8 a.m. is a creeping, frustrating mess. It’s best to be patient, but few people are.
Runyan caught up with the vehicle and took the license number, only to watch the driver activate the blue lights and go through a red light at Peachtree Battle Avenue. It then continued weaving through traffic, trying to find an open lane to overtake the rest of the poor slobs.
Runyan, a Buckhead resident who manages an apartment complex in Midtown, again caught sight of the SUV approaching the apartments across from the Shepherd Center. A school bus heading north was stopped to pick up students. The SUV, she said, passed it heading the opposite direction, even though the safety arm on the bus was down.
This irked Runyan. Not that long ago, she drove a school bus for Fulton County.
Finally, she lost sight of the SUV after it ran one more light. All this happened in a little less than two miles of very heavy traffic.
After arriving at work, Runyan vented about what she had seen. She called police to complain and demanded a cop come and fill out a police report on the incident. It took three calls before one did. She also posted on her neighborhood Nextdoor Web site about what she had witnessed.
Finally, someone asked her, “Don’t you watch TV?”
“No,” she said.
Well, the previous evening Channel 2 News had run a news story documenting Mayor Kasim Reed’s penchant for using police blue lights to get places in a hurry. The station had gotten a tip from a law enforcement source saying Reed’s security detail was breaking state law by heading to “emergencies” like speeches, ribbon cuttings and parties like they were real emergencies.
They taped the mayor’s SUV 10 times rushing around with blue lights, going through red lights. The best footage was the Yukon heading down the shoulder on a clogged highway entrance ramp because, well, because he’s the mayor of a big city. And we’re not.
Channel 2 observed Gov. Nathan Deal and the mayor at the same ground-breaking event. The Guv came early, stopped at a red light and did not use blue lights. Hizzoner arrived late, blue lights a-flashin’. Deal said he rarely uses blue lights. So did Cedric Alexander, the public safety director of neighboring DeKalb County. So did Reed’s predecessor, Shirley Franklin.
The mayor told Channel 2 that he was stretched thin, that a lot of people want to see the mayor but there is only one of him. He and his police chief said lots of people threaten the mayor — thousands of them, in fact — although the city will not release any evidence of this. Also, the TV station reported that Reed’s SUV ran into a car in September when driving in Cobb County. The driver of that car was hospitalized.
But back to Peachtree Road, although you might see what direction I’m heading here.
It turns out the SUV on Peachtree was Mayor Kasim Reed’s, and he did indeed have an emergency: He was heading to V-103 radio to bash Channel 2, as well as Alexander, Franklin and even the governor — “I’m not 74 years old, I move at a different pace,” the mayor said.
V-103 affords the mayor a sanctuary, offering love and support as he talks on the air. Reed indicated his critics have ulterior motives. He suggested Alexander was bitter because he tried to be Atlanta’s police chief but didn’t get the job. Franklin, he growled, “left office with a 35 percent approval rating” and used blue lights when she was mayor, even if she says she didn’t.
And I think he was saying Gov. Deal is a geezer who can’t keep up with a young(ish), vigorous fellow like Kasim Reed.
Now, I’m only guesstimating what the mayor is thinking because he won’t talk to me.
So, here’s a response written by mayoral aide Tom Sabulis, a fine fellow who used to work at the AJC and whose job duties include beating up the likes of me:
“This column marks the 32nd time Bill Torpy has written about Mayor Kasim Reed, a man he has spoken to twice in his career.”
(Actually, our files show I’ve written about or made a passing mention of Hizzoner more than that. Also, according to files and memory, we’ve talked at least eight times, although once was him calling to yell at me, so I don’t know if he counted that.)
But let me return to Tom.
“On Nov. 2, 2016 a police report was filed alleging that Mayor Reed’s city vehicle used blue lights and sirens while en route to a radio interview. The accusations contained in the report are false. The Atlanta Police Department reports that the mayor’s vehicle remained in the steady flow of traffic on the way to this interview and flashed blue lights only momentarily in one instance when warranted.
“It is deeply disturbing that both the (AJC) and WSB continue to engage in the reckless behavior and, in this instance, false pattern of turning the mayor’s personal safety into a sensationalized news event during what is clearly an unstable and unpredictable time.”
So, we have a he said/she said. The mayor, who has been proven to roll with blue lights, says he didn’t. And we have a lady going to the trouble to file a police report who says, yes, he did.
I’ve already given you Reed’s he said. Now, here’s the she said.
“As a concerned citizen, I don’t like this kind of behavior on the road,” Runyan told me. “If I did what he did, I’d be ticketed or behind bars. It’s an abuse of his position.
“Anyone who drives like that needs to be called on it.”
Consider him called on it.