Imagine if someone — we’ll call this someone Mr. X — said something vile about a close friend of President Trump. Imagine further that Trump responded in his typical bullying style by directly contacting the employer of Mr. X and publicly threatening to strip the company of millions of dollars in government contracts unless the situation was quote “resolved” to his satisfaction.
I can conceive of Trump doing something like that. I can also imagine the outrage that such an action would inspire, and the outrage would be justified. The use of government power directed at an individual in that fashion would be seen as a major abuse and overreach.
Well, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has made our imaginary scenario all too real.
You may remember the case of Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter, who set off a major controversy when he went on a Facebook rant in which he referred to Democrats as Demon Rats and called U.S. Rep. John Lewis “a racist pig.” In other posts, he referred to the opposing political party as “libtards.”
As it turns out, a lot of libtards and Demon Rats as well as Republicans and conservatives in Gwinnett found those comments unacceptable. They have led to angry public meetings, apologies and demands for Hunter’s resignation or forced removal from office. I have no problem with any of that, and if public pressure finally forces Hunter to resign his public position, fine. He said those vile things and should be held accountable. You have the right to free speech, but that doesn’t mean that you’re immune from the consequences.
Reed, however, has taken the situation a dangerous step too far. This week, he sent a letter to United Consulting, Hunter’s employer and a substantial contractor with the city, recounting the Hunter story and demanding to know no later than Feb. 27 how the company is going to “resolve” the matter. The threat between the lines seems pretty clear: You can keep Hunter as an employee, or you can keep the contracts, but you can’t keep both.
That’s highly inappropriate, sets a terrible precedent and allows Hunter to now cast himself as the victim. Not to make a federal case out of it, but Reed’s letter also comes at a time when he faces considerably more important challenges in the city’s contract-awarding system, challenges that threaten to permanently taint what has largely been a successful tenure as mayor. As Hunter’s lawyer points out, if Reed can threaten to pull a company’s contract as a form of political punishment, it implies a similar ability to use contracting as a political reward.
Furthermore, United Consulting had already made its position clear long before Reed’s crude attempt at intimidation. It issued a swift public disavowal of and apology for Hunter’s statements more than a month ago, and also sent a letter of apology to Lewis personally. Its position could not be more clear.
I understand Reed’s anger, but that doesn’t justify his proposed action. He needs to find a way to walk this back.