All of the Birmingham mayoral candidates want to be mayor, but few can articulate why you should vote for them.
As the candidate with the most experience at City Hall, William Bell spent 22 years as a city councilor before being ousted two years ago by current councilor Elias Hendricks. Bell served approximately four months as interim mayor after long-time Mayor Richard Arrington stepped aside before his final term expired, presumably to give Bell the advantage of running as an incumbent of sorts against then-councilor Bernard Kincaid. Kincaid won in a monumental upset despite Bell’s million-dollar campaign treasure chest.
Bragging on the $1.4 billion in capital improvement projects that resulted during his years in office, and his $230 million “Bell Plan” to save Birmingham city schools, Bell laid out his strategy to improve public education: “We’re not building enough homes in our community to build up our neighborhoods. . . . That’s going to have a positive impact by creating an environment for families to move back into our neighborhoods and our communities, to build up our schools. But more importantly, rather than routing funds directly through the school system as we’re currently doing, I’m going to route those funds that the city supplies the school system through our PTA organizations.” Bell pledged to build 1,000 new homes throughout the community if elected. He also shocked those in attendance at Sixth Avenue Baptist when he pledged to get the Water Works assets, which he basically gave away while city council president, back under city control. Giving his critics from days past a figurative nudge in the ribs, Bell remarked: “I was even accused at one time of running City Hall as president of the city council. Make me your mayor. I’ll show you how to run City Hall.”
Boasting that he currently holds the “oldest ABC license in the city,” Cannon, who currently owns TC’s bar in Lakeview was once co-owner of the original “upside-down” Plaza, which was located where the Hot and Hot Fish Club now resides. He likes to quote JFK and pledges to transform the city’s image into something more positive than that depicted by the statue of “the dog attacking the human being” in Kelly Ingram Park. Cannon says that he is the only candidate with a plan to raise money instead of merely spending it. “The greatest thing that has happened to the drug industry is cell phones,” details Cannon. “I intend to license these things and penalize you for using an electronic held device in a moving vehicle. That alone will create approximately $18.6 million per year.”
His main platform, however, is construction of a domed multi-purpose facility in the warehouse district between First Avenue North and First Avenue South. Adding that he has three college degrees and three honorable discharges from three different branches of the military, Cannon said he once ran a “black nightclub in the ’60s.” He also used to race stock cars at Birmingham International Raceway, and his noticeable limp is the result of a crash there one night.
Don’t let his thrift store Red Skelton wardrobe fool you. Dr. Edelman is a retired schoolteacher of 38 years who is righteously pissed that he was one of hundreds of teachers who did not receive the full buy-out money they were promised (taxes were deducted, which was not part of the original plan according to school employees who took a lump sum payment for early retirement). “Tricked out of their tax money,” gripes Edelman, who sports a Thou Shalt Not Steal button on his lapel. He complains that Mayor Kincaid “cut a secret contract to make sure that [teachers] got screwed out of $10,000 a piece.”
The former university professor and middle school teacher is known as “The Bean Counter” on most local talk radio shows, but occasionally uses the alias “Robert from Shoal Creek” “because I can’t stand those people!” He derides Operation New Birmingham (ONB) as “Operation New White People,” grumbling that ONB gets money “to help more white people move into downtown Birmingham while the neighborhoods cry.”
Willis Hendrix reminds the audience at every candidate forum that he has “five earned college degrees. . . . I don’t know of anything I haven’t done or can’t do.” He carries a copy of the Bill of Rights everywhere he goes, which is his campaign platform. Suggesting that politicians are in violation of the law when they make promises they can’t keep, he tells voters that they can send him to jail should he do the same if elected. “You don’t get anything done by making wild promises you can’t come up with. There’s a criminal law against promising something that you can’t produce, and that’s if you’re [dealing with] money under false pretenses, and I think a lot of politicians are guilty of that.” Hendrix claims to have never bought anything on credit. “I don’t owe anybody anything, financially or spiritually or any other way. I’m what is known as a Renaissance man. A little bit crude but nonetheless I’m floating on a sound foot.”
“Not half a man, a Holl-man!” thunders Reverend Paul Hollman to a roaring crowd at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. The effervescent Hollman promises to build partnerships with the private sector. “I will change through innovation. . . . I will lead through partnership, I will find power in partnership, like Alabama Power. I’m gonna bring up some minority business, I’m gonna go across town and unite with the other mayors and say, ‘Let’s work together and not apart!’” A favorite quote of Hollman’s is an old African Proverb: “Whenever two elephants fight, all that gets hurt is the grass beneath. . . . Our children are hurting, our elderly are hurting, our schools are hurting simply because we cannot get along with one another!” His years as a top salesman for the Xerox Corporation and the lawn maintenance business he started at age 14 (when he employed five neighborhood kids) are the basis of his detailed grasp of financial issues. Hollman pledged that if elected, one of his first actions would be to hire city councilor and mayoral candidate Roderick Royal as his public administrator.
Huey has the dubious distinction of being the only candidate to run for mayor of another city—Denver in 1999. “I believe I finished third,” responds the mathematics instructor to a reporter before the Huffman High forum begins. She is currently working on a master’s degree in math from Alabama State University. At the JCCEO forum, candidates select a “wild card” question from a hat. But Huey merely laughs at the question she chooses, swapping it for another “because the question was too long.” Huey’s platform revolves around obtaining an NBA franchise for Birmingham. She feels that a quality mass-transit system will be a revenue generator and also wants reduced bus fare so that children can take public transportation to school.
Jones, a member of the first graduating class at UAB in 1970, has practiced law for 28 years. He claims much financial experience through his law practice but knows that handling money is more intricate than most realize. “It’s not all about how well you budget. It’s how prudently you spend taxpayers’ dollars.” Having attended more than 50 neighborhood meetings in the last few months, Jones is ready to tackle the city’s top job: “I understand the role of the mayor. The mayor should be an administrator, a bridge-builder, one who brings people together.”
“Lift every voice for democracy,” is Mary Jones’ slogan. Jones stresses the importance of mass transportation by recounting the story of a man who walks six hours round trip everyday for work. She keeps her grandstanding to a minimum at candidate forums. She adds that she worked closely with Mayor Richard Daley while living in Chicago.
Mayor Bernard Kincaid
“I’m proud of the fact that from the day I was elected to this day, there has not been one hint of scandal emanating out of City Hall,” intones Mayor Bernard Kincaid, his portly torso swelling with pride. Kincaid, who spent several thousand dollars having the mayor’s office checked for listening devices when he moved into City Hall, boasts that he has cleaned up corruption. “We’ve gotten rid of the Brinks armored cars that used to be backed up to City Hall hauling away your money. And we’ve done that by getting rid of unearned contracts, people on retainers who aren’t even showing up at City Hall—they have disappeared.” Kincaid adds that a state takeover of city schools was thwarted during his current tenure. Congratulating himself for hiring women, he notes, “I have appointed more women to responsible positions in government than any [Birmingham] mayor.” Determined to instill a “can-do attitude” in city residents under his administration, Kincaid promises, “You don’t have to move to live in a better place.”
When asked if he supports Governor Bob Riley’s controversial tax proposal, Loder recalls the state’s dismal racial past: “It’s unfortunate that 90 percent of all the wealth is owned by only 10 percent of all the people in the world. Our framers of our constitution at some point decided that they were going to protect, in Alabama, the large landowners, some of whom are the descendants of that same plantation that your and my great, great grandmother and great, great grandfather worked from ‘can’t see morning ’til can’t see night.’ At a minimum they will begin to pay a fairer share of what they owe.”
Calling his three years on the Birmingham City Council “an interesting, exciting rollercoaster ride in public policy,” Loder says that Birmingham’s biggest problem is that “somewhere along the line, we stopped caring.” Loder explains that there is a tradition in the chapel at Morehouse College, where Loder attended school, that one chair is always left available. Loder explains: “The one chair is so that there will always be an extra chair for somebody who feels left out. I’m going to add an extra chair to the city of Birmingham.” Loder pledges to “create a tent so big that everybody will be able to get under it.” He fails to say if there will be room in the tent for his dog, Stokely. Loder was arrested on animal cruelty charges after the emaciated dog was discovered last September chained in Loder’s backyard. The case has yet to be completely resolved.
Matthews is king of the grandstanders, passing out “play money” imprinted with campaign slogans and once arriving at a city council campaign kickoff in a helicopter. The perennial candidate is fond of introducing himself with, “I’m Frank Matthews, you can bank on me!” Promising to “shake up the Financial Department” if elected, he criticizes the current city financial chief for not being a CPA. Matthews has previously stated on his radio program that he “runs for office because it’s my hobby and my job.” He is proud of his economic sensibilities. “I’ve been able to use the best minds and the brightest people that I can get to enter into business practices with me. I love to crunch numbers and I’m self-taught in that area. That’s why I’m the person that projected to the city that you would experience a $16.2 million deficit.” Matthews claims he warned of the deficit four months before it was revealed in news reports. He also frequently complains to this reporter that he is never mentioned in Black & White anymore. There you go, Frank.
“Our problem is the infrastructure of the neighborhoods. Our problems are the weeds! Our problems are the inoperable cars. Our problems are the street resurfacing,” shouted City Councilor Roderick Royal at the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church forum. Royal, a former police officer, cites his accomplishments as a councilor, including his “smooth ride program” that is designed to pave the worst 100 miles of streets in the city immediately. “I’ve already given you an inoperable vehicle ordinance to remove vehicles off the streets that drug dealers use to store drugs in!” Blaming the city’s financial woes on the absence of a trained public administrator, Royal confesses, “There’s one trained public administrator running for mayor, and that’s Roderick Royal.” He fails to mention if he’ll have a position on his staff available for fellow candidate Paul Hollman.
“Praise the Lord, saints!” is how City Councilor Carole Smitherman greets audiences at candidate forums. Smitherman insists that Birmingham needs some nightlife. “We need a city that’s vibrant, that doesn’t close at four o’clock [in the afternoon].” She announces her first plan of action if elected mayor: “When I become mayor, the first thing I’ll do is have a barbecue dinner with my new staff, with the department heads, and the city council . . . that I cook!”
As for those working on her campaign in order to land a position on her staff, don’t get your hopes up, because you might not be smart enough if Smitherman’s campaign pledge is to be taken literally. “I will assemble the best and the brightest that I can find in Birmingham. Those people that are on my political team will not transition with me to City Hall. I will find the best people and the experts that I can bring to solve the problems.” Smitherman doesn’t mention a Brinks truck but she does have a novel concept to address dire financial predicaments at City Hall. “What I will also do is make certain that I have a finance person with me not only in the Finance Department, but one that is housed in the mayor’s office.” &