Last October, Steven Reed rose from a crowded field to become Montgomery’s mayor, and his election made history, giving the city its first black mayor. Sixty days after his inauguration, MBJ asked him to share who and what in his past have most influenced and shaped him, and in what direction he plans to drive Montgomery’s future.
What motivated you to get into public service and to run for mayor?
Growing up around it had an impact; my mother and father were both involved in public service. Being exposed to history makers and trail blazers through my parents’ service and seeing their leadership also played a role; however the dominant factor was this: I thought I was the best person for the job of leading the city where I think we need to go. I wanted to make a more impactful change. I decided to run for mayor because I saw the mayor’s office as the position in which I could most effectively impact the community, especially at this time. I was frustrated too. There were things I thought could be done that were not being done. I felt a more open mindset, one ready to examine new ideas, was needed.
Who are some of your most influential mentors?
My parents Joe and Mollie Reed, the late Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson, President Obama, Andrew Young, Attorney Fred Gray, Dr. John Maupin, Lamar Higgins, William Blount, Judge Alan King, Attorney Milton Davis and Dr. Walter Massey. They all have been instrumental at various stages in helping with major decisions that have positively impacted my career goals, personal development and political perspective.
What are your main goals as mayor?
These are not in order of importance, but I want to see how we can support public education in a much more effective way. That is critical. It is critical that we work with our school board to build trust and have all understand that accountability comes with being a part of this system. It is critical that we seek partners for our schools, partners like think tanks or organizations or companies that are interested in investing in young people. It is also important to form strong ties with our higher education institutions.
I want to also evaluate how we can improve our outlook in terms of safety and crime. What things can we implement in the short term that will have more impact on crime? Do we invest more in the STAR Watch program? Do we add additional shot spotters?
I want to work on changing the outside perception of the city. It is rooted more in our past than in our future. I want people to see the MGM of today and tomorrow too, and that will take intentional and deliberate action on our part. It affects and is affected by how we position ourselves economically and culturally to our residents and others. How do we tell our story to the rest of the world? We need to raise the bar and measure ourselves against the communities that have transformed themselves into cities of tomorrow. And that is not just branding. That requires substantial things that draw talent and keep talent. One is to ensure we are providing great opportunities for all people regardless of community and ZIP code. If we can do that, we can change the narrative.
I want to strengthen our vital partnership with the military. I and my team will do everything we can to ensure the armed forces see us as a great partner and that they see us as an asset location.
The economic future of this city and this region is a major priority for me. Becoming a more diversified economy is something we need to do to compete with other communities.
In terms of economic development, I want to build on the momentum in the service and manufacturing sectors. I want to focus on healthcare and access too. I want this city to be known for innovation, for entrepreneurs and ground-breaking ideas from small businesses.
I want to highlight and build our own ecosystem here that is invested in a more knowledge-based economy, one driven by collaboration with higher ed, military and state government. That is how we attract young talent and experienced talent: economic opportunities awaiting them here and our quality of place.
And we are going to have to do a better job of empowering minority businesses, making them full-fledged partners in the community in very transformational ways.
- HIGH SCHOOL: Graduate of Jefferson Davis High School, 1992
- COLLEGE: Graduate of Morehouse College, BA in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance; Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management with a Master’s in Business Administration
- FAMILY: Wife: Tamika; Children: Kyla, Joe Klein and Karsten
Younger leaders aren’t wedded to broken traditions, anchored to ideas that may no longer be relevant. Younger leaders may be able to innovate in ways that get objectives met in a faster manner. In our society, you have to move, operate faster than before, so in my position, I think I can be more adaptable and see new ideas in terms of how government can better serve its citizens and the new roles we can play in our community. My administration is very ambitious. People should expect a different pace in terms of what we want to get done. The mindset is not fear of failure but fear only of not trying hard enough.
What have your first 60 days in office been like?
Fast and frenetic, but this pace has allowed us to get a sense of all the various moving parts within city government and begin assessing what we need to do to improve the city’s services and its outlook for the future. For much of these first 60 days, I’ve been actively listening and learning. We’ve worked with our transition team, cabinet officials and city employees to identify the challenges and opportunities for Montgomery and this administration. It’s been a comprehensive process of seeing things from the inside that provided newfound clarity on how the City operates and what we can do to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of those internal operations and services.
We garnered a lot of interest from external organizations and potential partners who share our vision and want to be a part of the New Montgomery. I have been humbled by all the support and the amount of resources offered. We are already starting to tap into some of these assets, which will help bring to fruition our vision for a Montgomery that works for everyone. Specifically, three graduate students from the Harvard Kennedy School for Government joined us for several weeks as part of a program to immerse future leaders in transition periods within local and state government. Montgomery is one of the first cities to take part in this program. Each student examined our community and city processes from an outsider’s point-of-view. Along with offering a fresh perspective on Montgomery, they met with our transition team, city staff and community leaders to assist in drafting recommendations for our community moving forward. As for another great opportunity,
I was fortunate to be selected to participate in a Harvard seminar on transitions and best practices for newly elected mayors. Not only did I find it to be very rewarding and impactful from the information shared, but the relationships established with leaders across the country should prove to be invaluable.
What progress on your goals and priorities do you think you’ve made thus far?
We made progress in grasping a better understanding and greater scope of some of our original goals. We are still in the process of prioritizing those that are essential to achieving our vision for Montgomery’s future. In the first 60 days, both in working with existing cabinet officials and staff as well as our transition team, we’ve been able to gain better clarity on which priorities should move to the forefront and which areas should be reevaluated. The process is ongoing, and the goals and priorities are coming into clearer focus as we move along in this transition period of the first 100 days.
Has the job presented any big surprises so far?
The biggest surprises have been those dealing with time management—from both a personal and professional standpoint—due to the day-to-day demands of this office as well as the expectations I’ve set for myself to get off to a solid start and leave an indelible mark on this administration. For me, neither a day nor a week can be left to chance. It’s important to maximize all of the energy and efforts of the employees working in the city to improve the foundation that we already have and make sure we’re in a position to take advantage of some of the opportunities I’ve been afforded due to the historic nature of this election. I certainly have been surprised by being asked to meet with several presidential candidates who are interested in my leadership, our election and how we want to lead the city by creating a new narrative for Montgomery. Other surprises might be the amount of moving parts you deal with in the mayor’s office that you don’t understand until you’re in this seat.
Who are you outside of the mayor’s office?
I love spending time with my family, and I’m active in church and in my fraternity. I love Little League football coaching (my oldest son plays), but I’m not sure how much I’ll get to do that in my new role. I like to stay in shape. I ride my bike on Saturdays or jog. I work out at the YMCA. I stay active. I’m a diehard sports fan and am interested in all major sports. I am a life-long Dallas Cowboys fan, always root for my alma mater Morehouse, and I’m an Alabama fan. I also love traveling, reading, laughing and socializing with friends, bar stool debates and funny stories of yesteryear.