With less than three weeks left in the most depressing presidential election since the times when candidates’ facial hair often determined victory, Mobilians at least have some good political news to focus on — Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced last week he’ll be running for another four years in Government Plaza.
I know it’s no surprise, but it’s still good to hear we’ll have at least one good mayoral choice next August, provided the country hasn’t turned into a dictatorship, been sold off to shadowy international interests or isn’t in the midst of a bloody revolution following the presidential race. Those are frequently mentioned on both sides as probable outcomes of the election of one or the other candidate, but for the sake of argument we’ll assume Mobile’s mayoral race will still have local significance next August.
While there are always going to be those who aren’t happy unless “their” candidate is calling the shots downtown, by most objective standards it’s hard to say Mobile isn’t far better off today than it was a bit less than three years ago when Stimpson took office. From my perch here high atop Mt. Lagniappe, Stimpson appears to have passed the “Reagan Test” thus far and, barring some massive breakdown in his final year, deserves another term.
So far the only person who has made any noise about opposing Sandy has been former mayor Sam Jones. The concept of him running again seems almost a joke, though. He had no financial support in the last election and left the city in fiscal and physical shambles. If he moved back into Government Plaza the building would probably start to leak again.
Jones has some supporters who hope he “learned a lesson” by losing office three years ago, but I think it would be hard for even his most loyal devotees, in their heart of hearts, not to admit the city is running far, far better now. Sam’s better off working for former Mobile County Housing Board Chairman Clarence Ball, doing whatever it is Ball now pays Sam to do. Must have something to do with the former mayor’s expertise in the health care field, right?
Anyway … regardless of whether Stimpson faces a rewind of Sam Jones or someone else, the job is his to lose at this point. While no mayor is perfect, we’ve come a long way in three years. Here are some successes:
• Openness and honesty — Some may point to righting the city’s financial ship as Stimpson’s number one accomplishment, but I’d say returning ethics and honesty to the mayor’s office is his top achievement. The symbolic gesture of removing Jones’ reinforced door from the doorway of the mayor’s office has led to a culture of openness and an ability to get a straight answer from City Hall. Though there are occasional delays in getting some info, we haven’t been outright denied or lied to, and that has been a huge change.
• Financial stability — Stimpson took over a city reeling financially, one where almost no money had been spent on infrastructure by the previous administration and where, despite having the highest sales tax in the state, we kept overspending. Are there still groups upset at having their performance contracts or other financial bloodlines cut? You bet. Have these groups learned to live with a new financial reality? Yes. The city is finally able to make regular capital improvements, provide raises to first responders and upgrade parks and services. Because finances have improved, the city’s rating has also been upgraded, which makes it possible to refinance debt and borrow when necessary.
• Vision — Next month Carnival Cruises will return, something that will bring thousands of people a week back to downtown and also take the cruise ship terminal off the negative side of the city ledger. It’s just one part of the vision Stimpson has shown as mayor. Water Street is about to be transformed, as is Broad Street. Buildings in downtown are being snapped up by investors and businesses that want to be part of the boom there. New companies have come into the community and more appear to be on the way. These aren’t all accomplishments of one person, but as mayor Stimpson sets the agenda and his positive attitude has been pervasive.
These are just a few areas where Stimpson has made a massive difference since his election. Of course the city still faces challenges and we have a long way to go to meet many of the lofty goals Stimpson set when he took office.
Obviously crime continues to be a problem, but it is a focus for the mayor. Getting raises for police and fire should help attract better people and hopefully that will start to show in the statistics.
Race relations are an issue nationwide and while Mobilians should be proud of not having the kinds of riots or attacks on police that have taken place in other cities, that doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t continue working to be less polarized. Stimpson has shown a willingness to work in that arena and hopefully that will continue.
Even in the midst of the most successful upswing the city has seen in decades, there still isn’t enough credit to go around sometimes, and the mayor and City Council are going to have to work to improve relations during a second Stimpson administration.
The Mobile Housing Board also looms as a massive issue with which Stimpson must deal. A recent investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development indicates real problems, and frankly nobody should live the way many MHB residents do. MHB is an embarrassment to this city.
Litter and the environment are two more areas where Stimpson still has his hands full. Getting this to be a cleaner city has been one of his goals, but I’m not sure it’s one we’ve accepted with open arms. The average Mobilian still seems to think tossing a cigarette butt, fast-food bag or dirty diaper on the streets is just fine. And the city needs to grow a pair when it comes to dealing with the Press-Register’s continued hurling of unwanted bags of wet advertisements all over town, too.
Keeping litter off the streets is going to keep it out of our local waterways, and hopefully it’s an area where Stimpson can get more traction if he is elected to a second term.
Personally I also hope part of building a legacy in a second term would be working to use some of the BP money coming our way to create a bayside park near Brookley that could transform this city’s relationship with our namesake body of water.
There’s still almost another year before we head to the polls to decide who will lead the city over the next four years and hopefully most of us will still feel as positively about the job Sandy Stimpson has been doing when it comes time to vote.
In the shadow of this most disappointing of presidential races, it’s nice to know our local choice next year should be much, much better.
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