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Atlanta mayor defends using emergency lanes in jam

Mayor Kasim Reed
ATLANTA (AP) - Atlanta's mayor is defending his use of emergency lanes at the height of Tuesday's icy traffic jam so he could do an interview at The Weather Channel's studios.

Mayor Kasim Reed's spokesman Carlos Campos said Saturday that he, Reed and police officers normally assigned to the mayor traveled in two cars equipped with blue lights to reach the station's suburban Atlanta headquarters.

It happened early Tuesday evening on Interstate 75, at a time when emergency responders were trying to help the thousands of motorists stranded on the jammed highway.

"We had no issues getting up there. There was never a moment when -- I don't believe there was ever a moment where we interfered with anything," Campos told The Associated Press. "The emergency lanes were pretty clear."

The mayor's use of emergency lanes was first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The action has sparked anger from motorists who tried to stay warm in their cars or abandoned them to seek shelter in businesses along I-75 and other freeways around metro Atlanta.

Campos said they believed that communicating to the largest possible audience during the crisis was important, and an interview with The Weather Channel was a way to accomplish that.

"The Weather Channel asked us to come up and we did," Campos told the AP.

"I thought it was important that he communicate often and that he be visible," Campos added. "People expect to hear from their leaders during crisis."

Campos said one aspect of the trip "needs to be made super clear."

"We did not take any police officers off their beat," he said. "These are plain-clothes officers that are assigned to him all the time."

Asked about what would have happened if the mayor's vehicle or the one he was riding in had become stuck, further complicating the traffic mess, Campos said "that's a hypothetical."

"I'm not going to speculate on that -- we didn't get stuck," he said. "We made a choice and we stick by it. I'll allow other people to speculate all day about we could have done. Decisions were made. We were in a crisis. People can speculate and pontificate all they want about what we could have done."

Campos declined to say whether Skype, telephones or other means of communication were considered, rather than traveling to the network for an in-person interview.

He recounted details of the journey for the AP on Saturday, saying that he and the mayor traveled in separate cars with Campos arriving at The Weather Channel early to make preparations for the interview. He said they used Interstate 75 - one of the interstates hit hardest by the ice storm - to reach the network just northwest of Atlanta in Cobb County.

"We used the lights to let people know we were coming," said Campos, who is interim director of communications for the mayor's office.

"If we encountered a vehicle in the emergency lane, we went around it," Campos said. "We didn't push anybody out of the way, we just went around it. With the blue lights, we just edged around the vehicle."

Campos recalls seeing a Georgia State Patrol car and a HERO unit -- a specially designed truck used to help stranded motorists. He said his car was able to get around them because both of those vehicles were in a "gore" area -- the triangle-shaped areas where roads split.

The mayor went on the air around 6 p.m., and he used the opportunity to urge drivers to stay off the roads.

The interview request itself was routine, and the network often speaks with city officials when severe weather strikes, said Shirley Powell, a spokeswoman for The Weather Channel.

"We do it all the time. Our news desk would have made the request," Powell said in a statement Saturday.

Some motorists have reacted angrily at the mayor's action, calling it self-serving and unnecessary.

"He's worried about his national exposure when the whole city is in gridlock?" Scott Albertson told the Atlanta newspaper. "He's worried about his chances to run for Senate or president some day."

Albertson's trek from Atlanta's Perimeter to his home in Woodstock took more than seven hours Tuesday. Other drivers were stuck on I-75 as long as 20 hours.

Rafael Garcia was among drivers trying to stay warm in the massive traffic jams on I-75 when the mayor passed by. By that time, Garcia had been on the road four hours and would have eight to go before arriving home to Woodstock.

"I think it's adding insult to a bad situation," Garcia told the Atlanta paper. "The more I thought about this, the more upset I get in every respect."

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uacrack February 02 2014 at 7:12 PM

he did not need to go he could have done it over the phone or skype facetime etc. Instead he put MORE cars on the roads and he could have crashed and blocked the emergency lane. He is a loser so Obama will probably give him a job

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Ono February 02 2014 at 5:49 PM

Closet racist are out like roaches in the night on this thread. People who do not live in Atlanta weighing in with racist innuendos, just like the good old days on AOL threads.

Disgusting, but not unexpected.

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shelia February 02 2014 at 5:08 PM

My husband and I spent fifteen hours on 1-75. The exit ramps for Howell Mill and Moore's Mill were sheets of ice. Paces Ferry Rd/Northside Pkwy was like a parking lot. We took this exit because we needed gas.(it was the only one treated) We filled our tank one antifreeze container at a time just so we could get back on the iced I-75. Its like the folks in Washington, Reed and Deal don't understand the fight because they are not in it( Reed got preferential treatment while we suffered) English reminded me of Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show: totally incompetent. Sometimes when you don't have any skin in the game, it is hard to really care

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sullgandm February 02 2014 at 3:56 PM

The Mayor should have recognized his duty to his citizens that were stuck on the interstate. Call and persuade who he had to to get them free.

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okduffer February 02 2014 at 12:21 PM

if you don't like the once in 20 year snow syorms of atlanta, then move to another city. quit complaining and go to a more liberal state or city, like new york

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J O S E February 02 2014 at 12:07 PM

Mayor Reed is obviously related to former New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin. Don't u just love is over-used excuse, "I don't have control of the interstate hwys." U don't have control, period.

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mckeeha1 February 02 2014 at 11:36 AM

think i love too go with my mother here too with mother gail here too atlanta have ah good visiting here of the south of downtown atlanta we,re from from lenoir city we want too say high i want the atlanta journal constitution plus the marietta daily journal i love kennesaw plus i love ringgold ga i love georgia plus i love the south of the statemy home city is kennesaw georgia better then lenoir city tn here i love shopping malls here in georgia over atlanta area i love macys plus belk here in cobb county

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mckeeha1 February 02 2014 at 11:29 AM

well my is christopher mckeehan i,m too going on too head too lenoir city thanks atl see you very again when i,m only just the north knoxville here atlanta well we love you teddy turner

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mckeeha1 February 02 2014 at 11:26 AM

i know i love atlanta i love vacation such as georgia is i love the fruit i know i love peaches of the south of florida i love free vacation that,s including atlanta macon & tallahassee plus i love the super bowl xxiii bowl i know denver is going too win my home from favorite the south is kennesaw georgia of over cobb county ga i love your weather better getting cold

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mckeeha1 February 02 2014 at 11:22 AM

i know all the people came over from atlanta say hello too reed too politics of but i think i love atlanta here lenoir city plus knoxville tennessee over by the convention center better than i love atlanta kennesaw marietta all over that,s when my mother visiting atlanta i love too see kennesaw but i love or i know i love visiting mr andrew young he,s is ah vice president better ted turner

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