As the first openly nonbinary candidate for the Mobile City Council, Tex Copeland wants to bring a queer voice to the body, but they also want to help the city of perpetual potential finally reach for it.
Copeland came out as nonbinary while living in Portland, Ore., before moving to the Port City. They have embraced and been embraced by the LGBTQ community in Mobile and they want to see the community represented on the elected body.
“I feel that the Mobile City Council has diversity, but Mobile City Council does not have a queer voice,” they said. (Copeland self-identifies with the singular pronouns “they” and “them.”)
“People go to council meetings and they bring a queer voice, but there’s not a queer person sitting on council, as far as I know. Why doesn’t our City Council reflect the diversity of Mobile? There’s a huge queer and allied community.”
Copeland said they have been open about their gender identity during the campaign and plan to be the most “transparent” member of the council if elected.
“If I’m willing to run as openly nonbinary, I’m willing to be transparent about all of it,” they said.
Copeland sees homelessness as a lingering issue in Mobile. As a social worker for AIDS Alabama South, they know firsthand the impacts being without the stability of a place to live can have on Mobilians. Noting the planned demolition of Mobile Housing Board (MHB) properties on the south side of the city, Copeland sees a unique opportunity to help fix the issue. Using a model they picked up from Oregon, Copeland said the city could simply require large, upscale developments to open a portion of new units as affordable housing.
MHB, through the Alabama Housing Finance Authority, already provides federal funds in the form of tax credits for this type of development. However, Copeland believes the City Council could require this without the tax credits from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“I’m not even meaning HUD necessarily,” Copeland said. “Let’s just have the city make a mandate: If you’re going to build a new development, this many units have to be affordable. We have to do something because this is not working.”
Along those same lines, Mayor Sandy Stimpson has unveiled two initiatives aimed at providing low-income housing in neighborhoods that previously had or are going to lose MHB housing.
Stimpson’s administration has announced a plan to build 1,100 affordable housing units along the southside corridor. Also, the mayor is looking to take about $8 million in American Rescue Plan aid and use it to help a low-income housing developer out of New Orleans purchase and refurbish the old Gayfers building across from Bienville Square into 93 affordable units.
Copeland was more enthusiastic about the return of passenger rail to Mobile than most candidates who’ve spoken with Lagniappe. While a potential debate over funding Amtrak’s return to the area with a train from New Orleans to Mobile could be brewing among councilors, Copeland believes passenger rail is a better way to attract tourists to the Port City than even a cruise ship.
“Everyone wants the cruises to come back, but a cruise will bring people in for a day and then they’ll get back on the ship or go back to where they came,” they said. “If you take a train from wherever, you’re going to come and stay for a few days. You’re going to get a hotel room, you’re going to buy some stuff, you’re going to eat at some places, you know, you’re going to spend money for a couple of days. You’re going to make it worth it.”
The council had previously approved $3 million in funding over three years to help Amtrak to operate the train. However, the funding was contingent upon the completion of a modeling study that was started before the COVID-19 pandemic. It was never completed.
Currently, the sides, which include Amtrak, Norfolk Southern and CSX, have a case pending before the Surface Transportation Board to determine if the passenger rail agency can use the freight rails.
Almost universal among municipal candidates Lagniappe has spoken to at this point is support for a program created and pushed by members of the current City Council called the capital improvement program (CIP), and Copeland is also a fan. The program extended a sales tax increase for five years and divided a portion of the revenue into the seven council districts. The $3 million per district per year is mainly spent on new sidewalks, street repavings and drainage improvements.
While they fully support the program, Copeland still would like to see more funding go to drainage improvements in District 5.
“I almost stalled my car out because I had to drive through an ocean,” they said. “The drainage, I know, is something that comes up every election cycle, but we need to do something about the drainage.”
Related to drainage, Copeland wants to encourage residents everywhere, but specifically in District 5, to properly dispose of grass clippings and other yard waste so it doesn’t clog storm drains.
“When the leaves fall — there is a ton of foliage — when it falls, maybe don’t blow it into the ditch. Maybe pick it up,” they said.
Copeland, who pays for private recycling pickup now, wants the city to push for curbside recycling. They think that will encourage residents to throw fewer things away.
Copeland believes hearing others’ needs as a social worker has prepared them for a position on the City Council.
“I want people in Mobile to be able to be who they are safely,” they said. “I want people to have their basic needs met in this town. We have the resources.”
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