Probably the most important thing we learned from Mobile’s first mayoral debate Monday night is that the best way to end up on Sam Jones’ sh** list is to forget to invite him to a party.

The debate between Mayor Sandy Stimpson and former Mayor Jones wasn’t full of “You’re no John F. Kennedy” moments. Political zingers were in short supply and WPMI’s broadcast kind of made both men look like the debate was happening on the bottom of the ocean. I’m still not sure why the picture didn’t fill my TV screen, but then again my television is pretty old. The moderators did a fine job, but overall production values were somewhere in the early ‘80s cable access show range.

The debate lacked the racial rhetoric Jones whipped out at the first debate four years ago when he started ranting about people “up the hill” and “down the hill.” We got the slightly more subdued Sam who pitched the racial division in a more subtle fashion. Stimpson, for his part, seemed a bit nervous and left some huge Jones softballs just hanging out there. Overall, though, Stimpson got his point across.

One of the more telling things about the debate came as each man got to ask the other two questions. Stimpson asked Jones why he’d left office with the city’s “rainy day” fund at zero, and also about problems with the Mobile Housing Board. Jones asked Stimpson about resigning from the Comic Cowboys, and why “Sam Jones” had been left off the guest lists at a few high-profile ribbon-cutting celebrations. I think this began the part of the debate where Jones spoke of himself almost exclusively in the third person.

While the Comic Cowboys question caused a little squirming by Stimpson and was red meat for Jones’ supporters, if the second most burning issue facing the city is “Why wasn’t I invited to your party?” you have to wonder about Jones’ priorities. I’m not even sure what he was getting at. He asked the question like there was some great conspiracy to keep him from getting at some pigs in a blanket, mini quiches and a plastic cup full of Kool-Aid. It left me with this mental image of a sad Sam Jones standing by his mailbox dressed in a suit, waiting for his invitation. Tear emoji.

The other memorable moments from the debate were Jones’ claims about the city’s bond rating being the same as when he was king of Government Plaza — not true — and the spirited discussions about why Carnival Cruise Lines left and then came back. Jones said who the mayor is doesn’t make a difference (even though he took credit for every other economic development project in a 60-mile radius), but Carnival announcing an extension of their contract just weeks before the election may serve as rebuttal to that statement.  

We still have one more mayoral debate to go before the Aug. 22 election, so hopefully we’ll get more answers on this invitation scandal.

And the next senator is …
We won’t know for sure who Alabama’s next U.S. Senator is next Tuesday, and probably not even who the Republican nominee is, but the primary will at least send a bunch of wannabes home.

More than anything, this election will be a referendum on whether dumping millions of dollars on a slimy candidate is more important to voters than ethics or truth. True, the three Republican front-runners — Luther Strange, Mo Brooks and Roy Moore — all have their problems, but Strange has been held against the ample teat of establishment Washington like no other I’ve ever seen. The disgraceful — and I believe illegal — way he was appointed interim senator is something establishment D.C. thinks it can simply wash away with a river of PAC money.

I still haven’t met anyone who says they’re voting for Strange, or at least will admit it, and my gut feeling is he’s going to struggle and not make the runoff. We’ll see if my gut is right or if that’s just last night’s pizza.

Moore secured the all-important Chuck Norris endorsement the other day, which at the very minimum meant I had to hear a bunch of dumb Chuck Norris jokes. Sure, the endorsement also means Moore will grab the vast majority of the karate/martial arts vote, as well as that of “Walker: Texas Ranger” lovers, but the silent change agent here might also be the groundswell of Total Gym owners heading to the polls with their ripped abs.

Small living large
And just a couple of weeks before the election, Mobile’s District 3 Councilman C.J. Small has some controversy brewing. Seems C.J. no so long ago put the finishing touches on a $1.1 million house just across Dog River. The house is not only outside his district, it’s outside the city, which has his opponent questioning where Small lives.

These types of things always raise eyebrows. Councilwoman Bess Rich faced scrutiny four years ago because she and her husband owned a home on the Eastern Shore with another individual and the Riches had their homestead exemption on that house. The homestead exemption typically is assigned to the place someone considers his or her primary residence, but it’s also not a really big amount of money.

In Small’s case the homestead exemption is still on his home on Marine Street in District 3 right next to the mortuary he owns. He says he lives there but uses the waterfront mansion 12 miles away to “enjoy Dog River.”

When you’re a City Council member and you build a house just a few miles away that looks like it ought to have “Trump” printed on its side, people are bound to talk. In the 15 years I’ve been doing this job, I’ve seen a few people try to claim residence in a district when they lived somewhere else, including a county commissioner who claimed he lived in a shed. It didn’t even have a doorknob, just a padlock on the door.  

I guess it’s primarily a question of “optics.” Do people believe a guy is going to build Mar-a-Lago 12 miles away and then not live there? While the law is pretty specific about where someone’s residence is, proving they don’t live there is an entirely different issue. Maybe the other question is if spending a significant amount of your time living outside your district is your goal, then why be a councilman?

But C.J., please remember if you do have any parties at your swank pad, send Sam an invite.