By Ed Reynolds
Birmingham city politics took a corkscrew turn Wednesday, September 12 when Hezekiah Jackson, long-time right-hand man for Councilor Aldrich Gunn, set local talk show airwaves ablaze with allegations of financial impropriety and personal sexual harassment by Gunn. Jackson resigned as Gunn’s council aid September 11 to enter the District Four council race against the veteran councilor. When contacted for this article, Jackson stated that his campaign advisers had advised him to cease commenting on his allegations against Gunn.
Jackson appeared on radio stations WJLD and WATV that week alleging criminal activity by Gunn, who has served on the Birmingham City Council for 12 years, and is currently mounting a legal battle to return his name to the ballot for the October 9 council elections. Gunn’s $50 entrance fee was hand delivered to Probate Judge Mike Bolin’s home at 10 p.m. on September 18, the final day for candidates to file. According to state law, 5 p.m. is the cut-off time for candidates to have fees paid and all preliminary filing work completed. Michael Choy, the attorney representing Gunn, claims that his understanding of the law suggests that the deadline occurred at midnight September 18.
Records in the probate judge’s office indicate that Gunn had filed for candidacy several weeks prior to the deadline, but had not paid the fee, as was the case with approximately half the candidate field. Gunn claims that he thought that Jackson had paid the fee earlier.
In other council news, Councilor Jimmy Blake, who is not seeking a third term, resigned his position on the city Election Commission. Noting that he did not want to “make a big deal out of it,” Blake explained, “I felt like I was simply a functionary. [Mayor] Bernard [Kincaid] and his lieutenants picked the election officials and presented them. I wasn’t even asked to participate until the last minute. I don’t have time to get in there and figure out who is who [election officials], and who can be trusted. If they had asked me a month ago, that would have been a different thing.”
However, Blake is confident that the standards for accountability have risen in light of past city elections. The councilor alluded to past voting irregularities at the Legion Field polling location. “People would wander around, interfere with the vote. There wasn’t really a secret ballot a lot of the time. [Jefferson County Citizens] Coalition members that were polling officials would not let poll watchers get close enough to watch,” said Blake. “Coalition polling places were something to behold.”
“I’m inclined to say we’re going to have a more honest group of election officials than we’ve had in a long time, primarily because a lot of the Coalition members didn’t show up for the Water Works referendum, and lost their positions because they didn’t show up to work,” explained Blake. “We have a better group of election officials than we had before. But I don’t think any one particular political organization ought to be picking people like that, not that I object to anyone in particular.” Admitting he thought the current group of election officials was a “good list,” Blake noted, “I don’t see anybody there that I’m really worried about.”
Nevertheless, Blake decided it was in his best interest to resign from the Election Commission. “I don’t want to sit on the commission and pretend. I don’t want my credibility to be used for some purpose other than what I think it ought to be used for. I’m not a hundred percent comfortable with it, so I’d rather not be part of it.”
Blake said that an un-named council member told him that some election officials are related to various council candidates. Blake said he was not told which official was related to which candidate. “I haven’t been given time to research [the polling official list] in any respect. [Election officials] should have been asked those questions.”
Blake said he reached his decision after the three-person commission received the list of polling officials Thursday, September 13. During the September 18 council meeting, Blake handed a note to Mayor Kincaid, City Attorney Tamara Johnson (both serve on the Election Commission, which needs only a quorum to function), and City Clerk Paula Smith. Blake also informed Council President William Bell, who had previously served on the Election Commission until he was removed by Mayor Kincaid, chairman of the commission. Bell is running for re-election, and therefore cannot serve on the commission. “There is nothing but downside for me. If it’s not done right, I will get as much credit for it as anybody. I don’t like the way the selection is organized, and I don’t want my credibility behind it because I can’t in good conscience say that I have done due diligence in terms of picking these polling officials when I didn’t do anything about picking the officials.”
In light of the current controversy between Aldrich Gunn and Hezekiah Jackson, Blake noted that his resignation allowed him to avoid the “Gunn foolishness.” &