On Sept. 9, 2005, after receiving nearly 57 percent of the vote, Sam Jones beat John Peavy to become the first African American mayor of Mobile.
“By the people of Mobile, we have shown today that we can be a new Mobile. This city’s new slogan is we are too busy to be divided,” Jones said in his acceptance speech at his election night party at the Ashbury Suites.
Words like “unity” and “historical” and “progressive” were thrown around the ballroom that evening and former councilperson Clinton Johnson was heard saying, “This really says a lot about our city.”
I was part of the 57 percent who voted for Sam Jones, and I, too, was proud of our city that September night. I had listened to all of the candidates make their cases on why they should be our mayor, and I thought Sam was the best person for the job, as did many other Mobilians. And though the historical significance of the evening was not lost on anyone, most voters made their decision based on his knowledge of the issues and experience, not the color of his skin.
But after watching this administration over the last eight years, and especially over the last few months, the Sam Jones I voted for in 2005 is not the Sam Jones I see today.
“The most important initiative is pulling our community together. I think that is vitally important to our progress, and I think we can do that. I’d like to see the people who are on the City Council and the mayor actually work together to make sure we are successful in our efforts during this period when we are getting all this attention internationally and nationally,” Sam Jones said in a 2005 Lagniappe interview.
But sadly, it seems that desire to pull the community together and work with our council was lost somewhere along the way. His relationship with the council has been contentious over the years and statements made during this campaign have served to divide the community, rather than unite.
“You have a lot to learn about the political process,” Jones chided his challenger Sandy Stimpson during the first debate, after he suggested Jones did not treat the council with respect and said their relationship was irreparable.
“The council has taken up to do whatever it takes to make the mayor look bad. The mayor has been dealing with conspiracies for a long time,” Jones said.
So much for working together. I’ll just ignore them.
During this same debate, the man who has been preaching we are “Too Busy to be Divided,” made some of the most divisive statements I have ever heard a “leader” utter in a public forum.
His greatest hits included implying people were moving to Baldwin County because they didn’t like minorities moving next to them.
“We know why they’re moving. They’re moving because other kinds of people are moving near them,” the Sam Jones of 2013 said. Where was the Sam Jones of 2005?
He also accused Stimpson, who said he was proud of his own company’s record on hiring minorities, of not giving these employees the right positions.
“We all know it’s about the station they’re in. When I talk about diversity, I’m not talking about the laborers working in the mill,” Jones said. “We know there is not a genuine goal for diversity in the city.”
A racially charged flier was distributed at a downtown church criticizing Stimpson and evoking painful images from the Civil Rights movement. Though his campaign says they had nothing to do with it, instead of coming out and strongly condemning it as the divisive trash it was and calling for the citizens to remember “we are too busy to be divided,” Jones’ campaign manager just kind of shrugged it off and asked what on the flier wasn’t true, missing a great opportunity to try and bring us back together.
Days later, Jones stood at city hall surrounded by a group of pastors who reiterated some of the same racially charged sentiments and accepted their endorsements with a smile. One of the pastors asked voters not “to sell” their votes for fish plates and blues singers, an accusation the mayor himself has also made. What a demeaning and insulting thing to suggest about the people whose votes you are trying to get – that they are incapable of judging the candidates on their merits and their values are so cheap, they can be bought with a plate of food.
Some of the chatter I have seen on social media and comments on news sites by supporters on BOTH sides during this campaign has made me just sad and sick to my stomach. We seem a million miles and years away from that night back in September of 2005, where “unity” and “progress” were parts of everyone’s vocabulary. Those words have been replaced by “control” and ‘fear” and everyone calling each other racists.
And instead of trying to bring us together as the leader of all of Mobile, Mayor Jones has only fanned the flames. The statements he has made throughout this campaign have proven he doesn’t even believe in his own campaign slogan. How can he possibly be the man to unite this city, when he doesn’t believe himself there is “a genuine goal for diversity in the city?”
But aside from this disheartening and disappointing part of the campaign, Mayor Jones is fond of saying this election is about “performance, not promises.” I couldn’t agree more. His “performance,” or lack thereof, is why I will not be voting for him again. Plain and simple.
He was part of a team that brought Airbus in, and he should be commended for that, and it’s obviously wonderful for our city and will ultimately put more money in the coffers, but Airbus is not a panacea. And there are so many other issues that have been neglected over the last eight years.
And you don’t have to take my word for it.
Drive around this city and look at the condition of our streets. They are just terrible and embarrassing, and I don’t think some of them have been touched in over a decade or longer.
Take your kids to our parks and let them play in knee-high grass and around Mount Everest-sized ant beds or swing a racquet on cracked-open tennis courts. Drive over any bridge that goes over Three Mile Creek or journey along Dog River and just look at all the litter blanketing their banks.
Go look at the cruise terminal to nowhere — maybe throw a party there. Try not to hit bikers as they pedal down Old Shell Road because there are no bike paths. Go and try to get to public records from the police department. Be sure to take your attorney with you because you’ll probably have to sue for them.
Talk to police officers and firefighters about how they are so tired of being used as pawns and threatened with losing their jobs every time we “need” a sales tax increase. Look at officers, including two deputy chiefs, who have stuck their necks out and rallied against a sitting mayor and his chief in support of his challenger — an unprecedented move.
Ask people in Midtown and Oakleigh how often their cars get broken into or rifled through or their doors kicked in. So long laptop and flatscreen. And ask the families of the recent victims of homicide all over this city how “comfortable” they are with crime.
I realize some of these issues were inherited by the Jones administration, and they were problems that could not be solved overnight, especially during a bad economy, but in most of the examples above, it doesn’t appear anything was done AT ALL. Some of the parks and streets look exactly the same way (or worse) than they did eight years ago.
If we had just seen ANY progress, I would feel better about this administration’s two terms, but nothing. Or if we could have at least have heard why nothing could be done as well as Mayor Jones’ long term plan to fix these issues and his overall vision for the city, but nothing. I’m not sure if he even has a plan.
When you ask about the crumbling streets, all you get is our engineer has a priority list, and we’ll get to it when we get to it. But good lord, how long is the waiting list? My 4-year-old son asks, “why are we bumping?” every time we drive down Ann Street, which was like that long before he was born. I have to wonder if he will be asking the same question when he is driving down it himself in whatever beater we get him in 12 years.
This neglect, coupled with the lack of transparency and unwillingness or inability to articulate a plan for the city, is enough to lose my vote, but there is something I find even more troubling.
Judging by the way Mayor Jones practically rolls his eyes and brushes off some of the goals Stimpson has outlined for the city as ridiculous and as “blind ambition,” I feel like the mayor has just decided some things can’t be done and some problems have no solution, and that is the most dangerous mindset any leader can have or develop.
Once you stop believing the impossible is possible, the undoable is doable and the unattainable is attainable for your city, it’s time to give the next guy a try.
At this point, that’s the only path I see to the “new Mobile” that was promised on a September night eight years ago.