There’s probably not much in the way of analysis of Sandy Stimpson’s victory last week that I can engage in without being accused of dancing on Sam Jones’ political grave after spending the last two years explaining why it was time for him to go.
With that said, I’ll put on my gentlest slippers — the bunny-fur-lined ones with cushioned padding on the bottom — and try to offer some thoughts on the race and why it turned out so much different from the way Danny Sheridan said it would. (Sorry, the slippers are for Sam, Dan.)
The most obvious answer is this — Stimpson ran a great campaign and did a masterful job of introducing himself to the community without stepping on the race landmines Jones and his political team set up as election time neared. It had to be tough. It’s hard to imagine absorbing some of the very personal, totally improper attacks levied by Jones at the first and second debates, along with the ridiculous racist church flier and subsequent idiotic comments by the campaign manager. Someone like me probably would have shot his mouth off and ignited a firestorm that would play right into the mayor’s hands.
Whether it was just inactivity or cocksureness on the mayor’s part, Stimpson was allowed to operate mostly unchallenged for the majority of the last year. That gave him time to go into various communities around Mobile — including those that had been strongholds for Sam — and introduce himself. I’m convinced that helped blunt some of the “On the Hill” and “fish plates and blues singers” rhetoric the mayor started spewing once he realized this wasn’t just going to be his third coronation. A lot of people had already met Stimpson and realized he wasn’t that Old Money Spring Hill caricature.
And believe it or not, I think one of Jones’ biggest detriments in this race was the Airbus contract. What should have been a huge boon for him helped create a feeling of anxiousness among many of Mobile’s business owners and leaders. They realize our one “shot” is here and a more savvy and interested individual is needed at the helm who can maximize it. The rumors around town — and from inside Government Plaza — have grown louder and louder that it was the mayor’s poor relationship with Carnival that caused the Elation to sail, leaving us with the Gulf Coast’s most expensive dance hall. That sort of disengagement could spell disaster in courting the Airbus suppliers. He also was never out front in going after Airbus in the first place.
That’s one of the big reasons the money abandoned Sam, I think. Yes, in our own USA-conducted poll, the majority of people said Mobile is headed in the right direction, but it seems obvious most of those people also believe we have a lot more left in the tank.
Of course the final straw for Jones was playing “The Card.” You know the one. Jumping into the sewer with both feet was a disaster. If his political team advised it, they should give Jones his money back. It was idiotic. I still think the smiling, friendly Sam Jones you sometimes see on TV would have been much harder to beat.
That angry guy at the first debate shocked a lot of his longtime supporters. The personal assaults were bad enough, but essentially calling the white citizens of Mobile racists because they might dare support someone else was the breaking point. Not only did it galvanize people who wanted him gone, it embarrassed many of his supporters of both races — who then stayed home Aug. 27 or voted for Stimpson.
In the end, Stimpson rode a wave of excitement about the future, which got a shot in the arm when the legions of know-it-all naysayers finally realized at the end he could indeed win, while Jones saw the base he had taken for granted leave him twisting in the wind. It’s the classic political tale.
But enough about Sam…. Let’s talk about Sandy.
The most fascinating thing about this election is the obvious spark of enthusiasm it’s fanned into a flame. There’s something magic about change that makes us reevaluate our common condition. Suddenly I’m driving down the road thinking about living in a cleaner community with good roads, low crime and a government that isn’t constantly lying.
I know, I know, when a cynical journalist starts thinking about bike paths, smooth roads and more harmonious dealings with City Hall, something must be wrong. But it’s hard not to look at our opportunities and think it could happen — not just because Sandy Stimpson appears to be someone who is sincere and capable, but because of the way things seem to be falling into place. Suddenly we have a mayor who seems like he will be an energetic and positive leader, at the same time we embark upon becoming an aerospace hub. Meanwhile the University of South Alabama seems to be growing like it’s on performance enhancing drugs and other industries like Austal and the port are making great strides.
It just feels like things are about to pop. And that’s a nice feeling after the past six years.
Sure, Sandy has many challenges and pressures ahead. Like most citizens I have my own wish list of things I’d like to see happen.
I hope Stimpson will indeed commission a forensic accounting of the city’s finances, as I’m not sure anyone really knows where Mobile stands monetarily these days. Let’s find the best police chief we can, someone who will restore morale and weed out corruption. I hope our new mayor won’t be afraid to tell us bad news when necessary and that he’ll find ways to work with the City Council.
One thing I’ve become more aware of in the past few months is the dire conditions of some parts of Mobile many of us may not travel often. Making those places better is going to be vital to moving this city forward.
Perhaps there’s also a way to carve out some space on the bay where Mobilians can get in touch with the water that surrounds us. Most great cities on the water embrace it and we should find a way to access the bay. Hopefully some creative thinking can get us back in touch with the water.
I also think it would be a good idea for him to lead the charge for term limits in city office. I’m sure it may not be popular among many in office, but change is a good thing and nobody has a monopoly on all the best ideas.
Most of all, though, I hope we’ll all look back in four years and think about how far we’ve come.