The ballot for Bayou La Batre’s Aug. 25 municipal election will only feature three races, but whichever candidates the people select will take the reins of a city in better shape than it has been in years.
Since its last city election, the Bayou La Batre has finished paying down hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, settled multiple lingering lawsuits and seems to have rebuilt a sometimes-fractured relationship between the mayor’s office and council. Last month, the Bayou La Batre City Council approved the third 5 percent raise for city employees since 2018. Now, several familiar faces and a few new ones are vying for a chance to help build on that momentum as the city continues to move forward.
After running unopposed, Councilors Kimberlyn Barbour, George Ramires and Anna Bosarge were officially sworn in for new terms last month. The two remaining seats will be decided by contests between Brandon Bryant and Annette Johnson in Place 4 and Ida Mae Coleman and J.C. Smith in Place 1.
Bryant, an electrical contractor and business owner, is making his first foray into politics. On the other hand, Johnson, a long-time educator, has previously held the Place 1 seat and served a brief stint as mayor from 2015 to 2016. In Place 4, incumbent candidate Smith is facing a challenge from Coleman, who held the same position on the council for more than a decade until Smith’s election in 2016.
Mayor Terry Downey is not seeking a second term, so voters will be choosing a new mayor between two-term city Councilor Henry Barnes Sr. and political newcomer Daryl Steiner Jr.
Steiner and Barnes both have deep ties to Bayou La Batre. Barnes’ father and grandfather served on the City Council and Steiner’s family has run Steiner Shipyard since the 1950s. Both men have said continuing that legacy and making the city viable for future generations is important to them.
“The city has gotten to where we don’t have a lot of families down here. A lot of people have moved and taken their children to other supporting areas like Grand Bay and West Mobile,” Steiner said. “I’ve called my campaign ‘Putting YOU Back in the Bayou.’ My kids are the fifth generation, and I want them to be able to live, work and play in the Bayou as I have almost my entire life.”
Specifically, Steiner said he’d do that by improving the city’s infrastructure and its parks and recreation facilities. As a private citizen, Steiner and his family helped establish a Christmas boat parade in 2018 and a Fourth of July fireworks celebration last summer — both of which have grown over the past two years.
Speaking with Lagniappe, Steiner said he’d also like to see Bayou La Batre capitalizing on its waterfront.
He noted Bayou La Batre is dubbed the “Seafood Capital of Alabama,” but it doesn’t have a seafood festival to rival those in other coastal cities, which don’t even have the same historical ties to the industry.
Now that the city is on firmer financial footings, Steiner said he’d like to see it pursue more grants at the federal level and possibly hire a full-time grant writer. He also hopes to re-establish some kind of board or committee that would improve communications between city leaders and the Bayou’s major industries.
Steiner doesn’t hide the fact he’s a political novice, but he believes his background in shipbuilding, management and seafood have prepared him to step into a leadership role in a city he’s passionate about.
“I`m not an experienced politician, but I’m experienced in hard work, in business, and I have knowledge of both of the major industries in Bayou La Batre,” he added. “I’ve worked for well over 20 years in management in different departments and in different areas. I’ve overseen as many as 400 men in a shipyard and managed a $70 million budget.”
Barnes, too, has ties to the industries that have come to define Bayou La Batre. While “semi-retired,” he’s previously worked as a tugboat captain and truck driver, and still works building nets and managing a shop that supports the seafood industry. Barnes believes the biggest asset he brings to the table is his years of experience in municipal government both as an involved citizen and council member.
First elected in 2004, Barnes served on the council as the city tried to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina and was reelected in 2016 at a time when the city was rebuilding itself financially. In campaign material, Barnes touts having more than 140 hours of training on municipal law, ethics and local government, and he’s also previously held leadership roles in the Mobile County Municipal Association.
He believes that experience is important because running a business and running a city is not the same.
“I’ve run businesses, and when you run a municipality, you can run it business-like, but you can’t run it just like a business or you’ll find yourself in trouble,” Barnes said. “If you’re running a business, you can say, ‘We need $2,000 worth of weed eaters. Go get them.’ But if you’re running a municipality, you better be voting on it and you better stop to see who has the cheapest ones.”
As for the issues, Barnes raised several of the same points Steiner has. He said a lot of the city’s infrastructure needs to be repaired or upgraded, including streets, sidewalks and drainage systems. While the city has been able to upgrade some equipment used by the Bayou La Batre Police Department in recent years, Barnes said he’d like to see the same done for the public works and fire departments as well.
He believes making those kinds of improvements will ultimately make the city more effective in recruiting new businesses and more attractive to families. Barnes said he believes he can be effective in continuing the progress the city has made in recent years because he won’t be “learning on the job.”
“I will work closely with the council to achieve what is best for the city. Having served as a council member, I understand the importance of working as one body to make great things happen,” Barnes wrote in a recent campaign flyer. “I have witnessed good and bad in politics, but one thing I’ve learned over years of watching others is that more is accomplished when everyone works together.”
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