I got to thinking a little about time travel last night — primarily because of one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard uttered in politics.
The former Florida governor and current Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush was asked whether he would kill an infant Adolph Hitler were he able to somehow travel back in time. The would-be leader of the Free World responded with a “Hell yeah, I would!”
Besides grabbing the title of “Dumbest Political Q&A Tandem Ever,” this sad incident led me to wonder if a Jeb Bush administration would pump billions into time-travel research that would then allow the president to send assassins into the past to ice infant dictators in their cribs. One would hope the president and his advisors would watch at least one of the “Back to the Future” movies first, just to get some kind of handle on the ramifications of changing the past.
Then I started wondering if President Jeb Bush XI 200 years from now is already sending killers back to wipe out scumbags before they do their damage, but the fact we still know about Hitler probably means that’s not happening or we never achieve time travel at all, right? It all kind of blew my mind, so I had to watch “The Terminator” just to get my thoughts on time travel back in line.
Clearly my feeble mind isn’t really ready to handle the concept of retroactive abortions via time machine, but I was able to participate in a simpler form of time travel earlier this week simply by walking down to Cooper Riverside Park. There were no killer robots or murderous presidential candidates skulking about, but the place did look like someone had gone back to somehow wipe away what the park had become over the past several years.
For so long there were fences blocking entry into the park, and before that most visits to the park were primarily opportunities to be panhandled. But it was busy this past Monday at lunchtime as the crew was working to get a temporary ice skating rink ready for its opening this weekend. Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s vision of seeing Mobilians ice skating along the river as part of this year’s Christmas festivities has materialized. And the icing on that cake, so to speak, is Stimpson and his administration have already covered $80,000 of the $132,000 price tag through corporate sponsors, with Airbus taking the lead.
At the end of the day, Stimpson believes most, if not all, other expenses will be recouped through skate rentals and the city should have a two-month-long opportunity to ice skate at almost no cost to the taxpayers. Looking at the skating rink, I thought about how just a few years ago something like this probably would have been nothing but straight cost to the city. A 501(c)(3) foundation would have immediately been set up to hide the finances from the public, while half the skaters would have done so for free after some elected officials grabbed as many tickets as possible.
That was just how things were in “Old Mobile.”
I had occasion to need a ride from downtown a couple of weeks ago at lunchtime. In the Mobile of the past I would have had to call a friend to get me rather than standing on the Dauphin Street sidewalk baking for 30 minutes waiting for a cab — if one ever came. Instead I just hit the Uber app on my not-as-smart-as-it-thinks-it-is phone, and in two minutes a very polite and entertaining lady picked me up in a clean car and whisked me back to work.
That felt very “New Mobile.”
Three years ago this city seemed mired in a sludge of corruption and ineptitude dragging us all down, but over the past two years this mayor and City Council have done much to change that. Is everything perfect? Of course not. Neither the mayor nor the council has been perfect, and I know there are still political stresses between them, but mostly they have moved in the right direction. Are there are people on the council who would have kept Uber out for political reasons? Sure. Would some have stopped the ice skating rink? Yes. But at the end of the day Stimpson was able to lead effectively and get his goals accomplished.
Those are both small examples. Where you can see the biggest difference between the past and present is in the way the mayor approaches openness, fiscal management of the city and the myriad quasi-public organizations that have been created over the years. Two years after taking office, Sandy hasn’t borrowed money — hasn’t increased the city’s debt. The city’s reserve has been refilled and we’re now spending real money on capital improvements for the first time in years.
Former Mayor Sam Jones’ regime didn’t fix roads or buy enough garbage trucks and police cars, even while running the city deeper and deeper into debt each year. Stimpson has been able to accomplish those things while moving us back into the black.
Three years ago Carnival Cruise Lines left Mobile at the altar pregnant with a cruise terminal, and all the administration had were nonsensical excuses. Stimpson has been able to go and bring Carnival back to the future, just lending more credence to the rumors the ship left primarily because of personality conflicts with the mayor’s office and not financial reasons.
One other key thing that is different now is how the administration is paying attention to who is placed on the various boards that control so many things locally. For instance, major Jones cronies are no longer on the Mobile Housing Board, offering some hope that beleaguered mess may one day be turned around.
Sure, Stimpson has ruffled feathers by cutting back on city contributions to numerous local entities, reworking the broken retirement system and planning to shut down the Civic Center that houses so many Mardi Gras balls, but it’s hard to imagine these groups won’t all be better off if the city is financially sound. And there are a few local politicians who, surprisingly, have been much bigger obstacles to progress than I would have initially imagined.
Even so, Stimpson has hit his stride in this second year and it is now very, very easy to see the differences between “Old Mobile” and “New Mobile.” He’s skating on thick ice for sure these days as he readies for the third year.