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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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joyce cooksey February 01 2014 at 7:45 PM

What a Joke this is, but it is the usual for Atlanta poiliticans. I suppose all the people in cars that were stranded turned on their televisions sets so he could tell them they were struck in traffic.

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jsmith120313 February 02 2014 at 9:40 AM

Why didnt he instead order the cops who guard him to go out and help stranded people? This is one mayor I think we will see following in the footsteps of others ie Kilpatrick, Nagin, Barry, Jackson, Jefferson etc. When will these people learn to stop voting on basis of RACE??

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2 replies
pdbliz jsmith120313 February 02 2014 at 9:51 AM

They will never learn.!!!!!!!!!!! I grew up and worked around Blacks all my life......Most or at least half of my friends are black,
But,,,You would not believe how they changed in ATTITUDE after Obama got elected....
I never knew how some Black Hate the white race,,,,,,ALL SPUUED FROM THE DEMOCRATE PARTY.!!!!
And,, HOW ,RACIST SOME BLACKS REALLY ARE.!!!!!

Flag Reply +6 rate up
Ono jsmith120313 February 02 2014 at 5:43 PM

Why didn't he do this, or that, or the other. Why didn't he when he could have, or should have? Why, oh why. Damn good game here being the typical hung-over Monday morning QB, isn't it?

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stevehaley1 February 02 2014 at 1:59 AM

He made some very bad decisions from Monday when he should have closed schools , they knew icing roads were eminent . We knew in Florida and closed schools and 220 miles of I-10. He just sat there and did nothing . Now he can take the backlash.

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1 reply
Susan stevehaley1 February 02 2014 at 2:13 AM

He has no jurisdiction over many of these counties. Downtown Atlanta was just fine. It was 12:00 on Tuesday when the icing started on the interstates. The Governor also stated he believed the storm was going to hit further south and so it was his call to be ready. I am sure they were in close contact the day before and the Governor made the decision. Atlanta traffic has to be the worst when it isn't snowing.

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Danny February 02 2014 at 2:33 AM

Obviously a very stupid and self serving man looking for a photo-op!!! Disgusting!!!

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dutchhollo February 02 2014 at 2:55 AM

Who said Politicians have brains? Not me.

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impactvqi February 02 2014 at 3:01 AM

Commemorating the start of Black History Month by the mayor

Flag Reply +1 rate up
SRJimVal2 February 02 2014 at 3:20 AM

What good did the interview do while adding to a traffic problem? He could have gone on the air at a local radio or TV news station and stranded motorists could have heard him on their car radio. I've traveled on those highways in Atlanta this past June and can imagine how bad the snow covered roads were but plows from a neighboring state should have immediately dispatched to help.

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sitemfg February 02 2014 at 3:38 AM

I guess all those stranded had their TV's with them. What an a$$.

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stvhndyman February 02 2014 at 4:24 AM

Problem was - Nobody from the govenor down to John Q Public looked at the weather forecast.
If they had looked they would have stayed home, or gone to the grocery store for bread, milk, and TP.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
finance454 February 02 2014 at 6:17 AM

"Do as I say not as I do" Besides I look so good on TV.....plus those weather girls are just so cute !!

If anyone needs to be blamed try the Atlanta school system. Their actions trigger everything else. They should have canceled school that day like we did here in NC. Once the school system(s) let out the mind set is EVERYONE needs out !

The mayor does not control the school system, some other dumb a@@ does.

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