In politics past is often prologue, and that certainly appears to be the case in the current race for the Mobile County Commission’s District 3 seat between incumbent Jerry Carl and challenger Margie Wilcox.
In a past column I’ve explained how Wilcox’s parents played a big role in running the Mobile County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority for more than 30 years, until Carl finally booted her mother and others off the board — as it became public the board was being misused in a truckload of ways by the very people sworn and paid to run it. But there’s even more to the story.
Jump into the Wayback Machine with me, folks, and let’s head to a simpler time, before any pesky media questions about just exactly was happening at MCWSFPA. Margie’s father, Ralph, had been on the board for many years, but unfortunately for him Gary Tanner was elected to the District 3 seat and in 1999 had the audacity to take Wilcox off the board. What did Ralph do? He got his close friend, State Rep. Mike Dean, to run for County Commission. Ralph even ran Dean’s campaign, and sure enough, when Mike won he slapped Ralph back in his comfy spot on the old water board. When Ralph passed away, Dean put Ralph’s wife, Margaret, on the board to keep it all in the family.
Flash forward to today and Margie has torn a page right out of her old man’s playbook — trying to take down the commissioner so the “right person” can be put on the board — whoever that person may be. Maybe this time they’ll be smarter about how they give themselves free water, or take their families out to eat or travel on the water board’s dime.
So why does this matter? It’s just the good ol’ boy or gal way of doing things we’re all accustomed to. Listening to Margie’s ads the code is there — Jerry’s an outsider and we need to get back to doing things the same way we always have, with the same people in charge. We hear about her parents supposedly borrowing money to start a ballpark. That’s terrific, but if Margie is going to wrap herself in their mantle, then she needs to also accept the other side of things.
We ought to hear an explanation of her thoughts about the water board when Ralph and Margaret were there and why it was so crooked, and why Carl thought a key to cleaning it up was removing Margaret from the board. I wish we could ask Margie who she plans to put on the board if she’s elected commissioner, but she’s issued a blanket statement that she won’t talk to Lagniappe because we’re too tough on her. Or perhaps she just doesn’t have good answers.
It would also be interesting to hear Margie talk about her father’s involvement on the board of directors of the Scott Paper Credit Union, which was taken over by state regulators in 2002, leading to the dissolution of the board of directors and a lawsuit alleging illegal wiretapping that ended with a settlement and a confidentiality agreement. Margie’s BFF Kim Hastie was also involved and ended up losing her job at the credit union, as did her boss.
It’s amazing what you can find in the Wayback Machine when you start looking into the history of the Wilcox clan, Dean and Hastie. (Let’s not forget, Hastie’s father is also on the water board.) When you look into west Mobile County politics, scandals and corruption, the same names boil up over and over.
It’s certainly fine for candidates to be challenged, but everything about this race just says the forces working against Carl want him out of the way so they can get their way. County Commissioner Connie Hudson has thrown in her lot with Wilcox in a way that’s almost unbelievable for anyone who has covered politics any length of time, especially considering she and Carl must work together for the rest of this term at least and most likely the four years after that as well.
So far, though, most of what we’ve heard out of the Wilcox camp has been of little substance — personal smears and whisper campaigns. Wilcox has blabbered to half the people in the county that Carl was somehow responsible for Hastie being indicted and tried last year, which simply seems like a red herring to hide her actual vendetta — the water board.
The biggest dig Wilcox has managed so far is “Giant Checkgate,” a situation where she claims Carl is inappropriately trying to take responsibility for getting more than $600,000 for improvements at the Westside Athletic Association. Hudson even piled right on in an al.com article, attempting to give Margie’s complaint more gravity. Too bad board minutes and a factual investigation of Margie and Connie’s complaints reveal nothing but hot air. (See Jason Johnson’s story on page 8.)
Let me lay it out here for you, gentle reader, because this is the scheme that’s going down. It’s not about Carl squealing to the FBI or presenting a giant check to a ballpark, it’s about who’s going to control Mobile County. Hudson must think she has a stooge in Margie who is going to hand her that $40 million soccer complex/natatorium Carl has been opposing. Margie wants control of the water board that’s been part of her family tradition for decades, and as a bonus Hastie gets her favorite crony running cover for her on the County Commission.
With the feds’ troubles getting Mobile County jurors to recognize actual criminal behavior and our county district attorney’s office not exactly champing at the bit to go after politicos, it has all the ingredients for a Wild West scene to come.
If Wilcox could elucidate at least one or two good reasons why she’s running that aren’t either made from thin air or personal attacks, I would understand why voters should at least consider her. But the concept of bringing someone in whose biggest supporters and mentors have been wrapped in scandal, who looks to be a pushover for Hudson’s spending sprees and whose election would, as a bonus, cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands for yet another special election for House Seat 104 is less than thrilling.
If the past repeats itself and Margie is elected, I find it hard to believe the voters of District 3 won’t be getting the same kind of sorry, backroom leadership common in that seat before Jerry Carl was elected. We’ve seen it all before.
Editor’s note: This article simply represents the personal opinion of the author, who is not involved in the reporting of news articles related to this subject. Ms. Wilcox’s implications that this opinion column has affected news reporting related to this election are simply wrong. Any choices she has made not to be quoted or to have her positions presented in this newspaper are her own and she is welcome to answer Lagniappe’s questions any time she likes.