Mobile’s homicide rate is climbing, the city’s population is on the decline and COVID-19 infections have been exploding in the month leading up to a crucial city election.
But incumbent Mayor Sandy Stimpson, seeking a third term in office, is painting a different picture of Mobile. The re-election campaign, with the slogan “Not Done Yet,” is highlighting a track record that Stimpson believes has led to a “safer” city by increasing equipment purchases for first responders and becoming the first city in Alabama to equip all police officers with body cameras.
He is also touting a business-friendly environment since he took office by highlighting over $100 million in capital improvements the city has made since he was first elected in 2013. Stimpson is also running on a familiar “family friendly” theme by emphasizing investments into parks, bike paths, greenways, and by cutting blight.
The mayor, in a campaign ad, is touting several goals if he’s re-elected: A new downtown international airport, a public waterfront along Mobile Bay at the Brookley Aeroplex, and “cutting-edge initiatives to stop violent crime.”
A recent campaign commercial reveals his vision for downtown Mobile, complete with a new Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge and a giant Ferris Wheel at Cooper Riverside Park.
“The future is brighter than ever before,” Stimpson said in his campaign spot.
Stimpson has been largely absent from public campaign events this summer, and he’s opted not to participate in all but one of the candidate forums. He defeated former Mayor Sam Jones in 2013, by 7 percentage points. He won by an even wider margin against Jones during their 2017 rematch.
Four others are seeking the city’s top political seat: Longtime Mobile City Councilman Fred Richardson, Municipal Judge Karlos Finley, Gulf Coast Mental Health Coalition co-chair Michael Young, and consultant Donavette Ely.
Richardson and Finley have been the most visible during the campaign, attending candidate forums and expressing dismay over the lack of Stimpson’s appearances at them.
Finley narrowly lost a state House District 97 race in 2013, to current state Rep. Adline Clarke. This time around, he’s trying to win a city-wide election and believes crime is the biggest campaign issue. He has said that Mobile should restore some of the funding cuts to non-profit agencies authorized by Stimpson when he first took office.
“We have a generation of children who feels like no one cares about them,” Finley said. “Many of the programs they had seven years ago were cut by the city.”
Finely is also not an advocate for the 2019 annexation plan that Stimpson supports, but which fell one vote shy of approve on the City Council. He said that “no one has provided figures” on what Mobile would receive from the federal government if additional residents are added into the city.
“I am all for growth,” he said. “But in a healthy manner.”
Richardson has the most longevity of any candidate in the race. He’s been on the council for 24 years, and is running on a campaign pledge that he’s not “for ‘One Mobile’ or ‘Some Mobile’ but ‘For all the people.’”
Richardson, who has famously butted heads with Stimpson on a number of issues since 2013, said if he’s elected mayor, he will work to improve relationships between the mayor’s office and the new city council. Richardson said there is a “steel wall” between the mayor and the council. He said if the two branches of city government worked together, “the city will be the best it can be.”
Young, a newcomer to politics who entered the race last month, said that crime is his No. 1 issue. He said he wants to have the city to reinvest into neighborhoods, and to move forward with modern-day policing that focuses on community activism.
He said investments into neighborhoods, such as improving street lighting, are goals of his to improve both infrastructure and public safety.
Young said that a lack of professional opportunities is harming Mobile as it struggles to reverse a population decline.
“Most people I’ve graduated with have left the city for bigger opportunities in other cities,” he said. “We need to figure out the areas in the city where we are missing out on opportunities.”
Ely has run for mayor before, finishing in fourth place during the 2017 contest won by Stimpson. She received 142 votes.
Ely said that Mobile’s biggest concern right now is preventing further population decline.
She said that accountability among leaders is important for a mayor, saying “that we need to figure out the areas in the city where we are missing out on opportunities.”
Mobile’s mayoral race will be joined by competitive contests for all seven district council seats. A runoff election, if needed because no one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, will take place on October 5.
The races include:
*The incumbent who is receiving the most competition is Councilman Levon Manzie in District 2. Manzie is seeking a third term and faces five challengers: Jason Caffey, William Carroll, Kimberly McKeand, Reggie Hill and Mark Minnaert.
*Incumbent Councilman Joel Daves, also eyeing a third term in office in District 5, faces two opponents: Tex Copeland and Wilecia Wright.
*Incumbent Councilwoman Gina Gregory, first elected in 2005, is seeking another four-year term representing District 7. She faces one opponent, Alan Barnes.
*Incumbent Councilman C.J. Small, who first joined the council in 2012, faces one opponent, Xaviaire A.G. Carnrike.
Three council seats are open because the incumbents are not running. Richardson, who has long represented District 1 and is running for mayor, is not seeking another term on the council. Longtime Councilwoman Bess Rich is not seeking re-election to her District 6 post. Councilman John Williams opted not to run again in District 4.
*Candidates in District 6 include: Tony Dughaish, Scott Jones, Deryl Pendelton and Josh Woods.
*Candidates in District 1 include: Perry Berens, Timothy Hollis, Cory Penn, Herman Thomas, Chamyne Fortune Thompson, John Westbrook Jr., and Tony-Toni Wright.
*Two candidates are running in District 4: Fred Rettig and Ben Reynolds.