The race for Mobile County Commission’s District 3 seat just keeps getting stranger.
As we report in this issue, the money is starting to flow into Commission President Jerry Carl’s campaign fund as well as that of his opponent, State Rep. Margie Wilcox. And while both are getting cash from the usual assortment of political action committees and politically interested individuals, one donation in particular lends credence to the conventional wisdom that Wilcox’s run is spurred by a political vendetta.
I’ll explain, but stick with me, there are a lot of moving parts here.
Less than two years after she was elected to represent House District 104, Wilcox suddenly decided to take down Carl, the man who removed her momma from a water board the Wilcoxes have had a hand in controlling since 1983.
One of Margie’s best buddies is Mobile County Revenue Commissioner Kim Hastie. We all know Hastie was tried in federal court earlier this year on a variety of charges including tax evasion, wire fraud, mail fraud and extortion. She beat the rap on all but one charge, and Margie was one of those cheering loudest.
Carl had been compelled to testify in the trial as a witness for the prosecution and as soon as the gavel hit the table, rumors were flying out of the Hastie camp that he had been the one pushing the FBI to investigate the inventor of 10-minute tags. Never mind that computer contractor Victor Crawford was the one who went to the Feds.
Wilcox began gearing up for the big get-even with Jerry. As Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder would say, “That’s what friends are for.” The political undercurrent coming from the Hastie/Wilcox crowd is that Jerry is a rat and needs to be taken out.
I’m not president of the “Committee to Re-Elect Jerry Carl,” but I call it like I see it, and right now the forces of shadiness seem to be aligning strongly with Wilcox. Carl has certainly made a few political enemies with his frank style, and they’re getting behind Margie.
It’s no secret Carl has clashed heavily with fellow Commissioner Connie Hudson, particularly over her dreams of a $40-plus-million soccer/aquatic center on 80 acres of swampy land at the nexus of our two favorite interstates. Right now he’s all that stands between Hudson and a project that carries significant financial risk for the taxpayers, and perhaps that’s another reason some politicos want him out.
Then there’s the strange matter of County Engineer Joe Ruffer using a PAC chaired by the county’s number-one road contractor to funnel a $3,000 donation to Wilcox. Citizens for Better Roads PAC made that donation to Wilcox directly after Ruffer gave the PAC $3,500. It was pretty easy to tell where his money went since the PAC only had $216.63 in it before Ruffer scratched the check.
Ruffer pushing money through an empty PAC chaired by a guy who does millions a year based upon bids Ruffer oversees is an ethical issue that may never be answered by the great state of Alabama. But it at least looks bad. Given Ruffer’s close relationship with Hastie, and the way his name has cropped up in scandal after scandal over the past couple of years, it looks even worse.
But at the end of the day it’s really Wilcox who raises the most eyebrows. I still can’t help thinking a lot of this has to do with that water board. Margie’s father, Ralph Wilcox Sr., was put on the Mobile County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority board in 1983, and after his death Ralph’s wife, Margaret, took his spot. She was there until Carl replaced her in 2013.
At the time Carl replaced Wilcox, she was chair of a board that had a lot of explaining to do. Heavy equipment missing, board members having secret meetings at restaurants, nepotism and misuse of credit cards were just some of the issues. For 20 to 30 years, board members had even unethically been getting discounted water. There are too many other details to recount here.
Sounds like it was quite the little kingdom for those involved — until Carl stopped it.
I looked a little deeper and found that, according to an application submitted to the Arkansas Public Service Commission in 1991, Margie’s momma had been the “personal secretary” for former Mobile County Commissioner Dan Wiley for 15 years. Wiley was on the County Commission when Ralph Wilcox was appointed to the water board. Wiley also went to jail for two years in 1999 for federal tax fraud and money laundering related to the telecom business he founded after leaving office. According to that application, Margaret Wilcox worked for Wiley’s telecom company, too.
So what’s that prove? It probably proves nothing other than a general sleaziness exists. Coupled with Margie’s refusal to answer any questions about her campaign, it’s hard not to see this as an attempt to restore the family’s rightful spot in the West Mobile County aristocracy. If elected, Wilcox would have the opportunity to appoint or reappoint practically the entire water board in her first term. That would include her pal Kim’s father who has served on the board for years.
Perhaps you’d say what people around Margie may or may not have done has nothing to do with how she conducts herself, and that’s a good point. Maybe she’s not into the “old school” politics of “look out for yourself and take care of your friends.” Maybe.
But remember when Uber was looking to come to Mobile, it was Wilcox’s lawyer fighting to keep out competition for the cab companies she owns. If you want to look further under Margie’s hood, here’s part of the transcript from a 2008 hearing before the Alabama Public Service Commission in which she testified to keep a guy named Augustus Agee Jr. from starting a limo shuttle service in the Port City.
In it, Wilcox admitted she routinely petitioned the PSC to keep other transportation services from opening in Mobile so she wouldn’t have to compete with them.
“On cross-examination by counsel for the applicant, Ms. Wilcox testified that she had protested the applications for operating authority filed by a number of her competitors in the Mobile area with the Commission. She indicated that she had not always been successful in furthering such protests. Ms. Wilcox explained that she was protesting Mr. Agee’s application because if he were granted authority, such authority would directly conflict with that of Mobile Bay (Transportation Co.),” the transcript reads. In this case, she helped keep Mr. Agee from starting his business.
Read through her political material, though, and you’d think Margie is Ronald Reagan reincarnate when it comes to supporting small business.
It’s really hard to look at the people supporting Wilcox, the crowd she’s run with, and her own actions and not at least have a second or third thought as to why she wants that chair on the County Commission.
Edited 12/10/15 at 3:50 p.m. to correct proposed cost of soccer/aquatic center. The latest cited figures are $40 million, although there have been no hard numbers for later phases of the project.