Category Archives: Election ’07

A simple gesture

It wasn’t his promises for being tough on crime. It wasn’t his promise to build a dome in the city limits of Birmingham. It wasn’t his announcement that whether you agreed with him or not that “from the bottom of my heart, that I do not care” (though it was very much the attitude I’d expect from someone who is determined to move his hometown forward). It was one action that albeit simple made me understand just what it means to Mayor Langford to be the guy in charge of the state’s largest city.

Immediately after the oath of office was administered on stage at the same building he pledged to demolish to provide room for the Southeast’s largest public art museum to expand, he stepped to the mic to correct a wrong that was not done to him, but to the man he follows into office. He asked Mayor & Mrs. Kincaid to join him on stage and sit with the elected officials and invited guests that were already up there. Then he let the former caretaker of our city step to the mic.

Perhaps some would see it as simple, but it’s those simple acts that are more important to me than anything else. Whether or not I voted for him, I realized that he, like all of the others that ran for the office, care deeply for this city; enough that they were willing to be dragged through the dirt and be ridiculed by people who would smile to their faces and verbally stab them in the back later on.

One thing I prided myself on during the campaign was being as non-partisan as possible. I did not see it as my place to tell the people of Birmingham who to vote for; I’d rather let them tell themselves. That is the point of The Terminal; to get the dialogue going so that the crowd isn’t being led, but are leading. The ironic thing is that I didn’t vote for either of the “frontrunners” in the campaign (and I’ll never tell who I did vote for), though many thought that the site was leaning in one direction. It was a collective voice of those that wanted to see change occur.

I come from a place that’s long gone from most people’s minds that believes that after the battle is fought that the community should come together and do their part to move the city forward. Period. No name calling, no grandstanding, nothing but the willingness to see their community do what it needs to do. If I didn’t, I’d hate to think of what my father would say or do to me, no matter how much older or taller I am now.

For the better part of the last six months I’ve been so focused on making a certain website a success that I’ve forgotten how much fun it can be to just let things be and happen. I’ve “enjoyed” verbal assaults that may help some folks feel good about themselves when they look at themselves in the mirror but that really didn’t make any sense. In the end it’s supposed to be more important to be above the fray. That is what will help move the city and the region forward.

Whether or not you believe that he’s the man to do it, Mr. Langford carried more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff. Barring a decision by a judge, he will be serving the city of Birmingham for the foreseeable future. He took a huge step to proving that despite the battles that lay ahead and the rhetoric that will be spoken that he can honor those that need to be honored and do right by the city that elected him. He is probably more like a New Yorker than I thought. And that gesture involving Mayor Kincaid proved that he does care and that he can operate above the fray. It is his hometown after all.

Unless and until it changes, let’s see if we can help him do something. It is our city.

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. To submit letters in response to this commentary or to contact for general information, use any of the methods listed on our contact page.

Should Cooper fade away?

Should Patrick Cooper’s lawsuit against mayor-elect Langford continue?

If there was a chance that he could win in court, I’d be all for him going ahead and seeing what happens. The funny thing is, most lawyers seem to be saying that the changes of Cooper’s contest being successful are quite slim, despite letters of support in Sunday’s Birmingham News. And even if Cooper was successful, Langford would be able to go and register for the race again seeing as how he would be able to claim residency a little easier now.

That or he would be getting written in by the more than 50% that voted for him last time, in addition to some who voted for Cooper that are becoming disenfranchised with him after this demonstration of doing just what he campaigned that he wouldn’t do.

There are many who are regular readers of this site that may disagree with me about the idea of Cooper letting it lie, but I have an interesting situation to lay before you. Let’s say that Cooper had conceded the race the morning after the election, pledging to work with the mayor-elect to move the city forward and truly lead Birmingham towards being the 21st century New South city that both men believe it can become. The two men combined carried nearly 80% of the popular vote on Election Day. Now let’s assume that Governor Riley decided to not make a special appointment to the Jefferson County Commission and that a special election was called to be held in February. Cooper could easily have taken part in the race and probably could have been seen as a contender for winning the position.

Let’s say that Cooper won – you’ve suddenly put two populist-elected officials in two extremely powerful positions in local and regional politics. If the city and region did not move forward then, people would have to answer for it. The people would have spoken not once, but twice, saying that the region must move forward and that they were willing to put their faith in people that were willing to do things outside of the box. (My biggest problem with that phrase is “why is there a box to begin with?”)

This scenario may have played out, though now it may not as many are becoming increasingly impatient with Mr. Cooper as he carries out a personal crusade against the man that promised he wouldn’t run against him for mayor. Well unfortunately for him he did, and he won. Removing Langford from the equation before Election Day would have landed him in a runoff; now it would open up a Pandora’s Box of uncertainty.

Cooper has said that he does not care about his political future, but there are many out there that do, many that decided to vote for you because of wanting a change who are not quite sure what they would have gotten.

The court of public opinion still appears to be out on both men as Birmingham prepares to buckle up for the interesting ride that is a Langford mayoral term and the promise of Patrick Cooper’s name remaining in the public eye, at least for the short term. The only fear that some of Cooper’s staunch supporters may have is his name becoming one of those in the coming months and years that when mentioned evokes comments like “he had so much potential; it’s a shame he acted the way that he did in ’07.”

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. To submit letters in response to this commentary or to contact for general information, use any of the methods listed on our contact page.

Using the bully pulpit in metro Birmingham

This morning people throughout metro Birmingham are waking up to fall-like weather and preparing for another full weekend of activities. Some will be visiting local libraries in Hoover and surfing the web to learn the results of an investigation into the Hoover Board of Education. Many residents have Hoover mayor Tony Petelos and the Hoover City Council to thank for that.

The mayor did something that will be fresh in the minds of many in Birmingham for months to come as we deal with our own educational system. He went into the belly of the beast and used the bully pulpit that comes with the role of mayor and strongly urged that the results of the report be released. He even went the extra mile and went on television explaining why he did it. The city council followed suit, providing the necessary pressure (and attention) to the situation that appeared to be needed.

The actions taken were extremely important and not necessarily unusual to the city of Birmingham and its dealings with its own board. The difference was the quietly aggressive approach taken by Mayor Petelos. He recognized it as an issue that was beginning to have an effect on the city and the school system and that it was leading to the city being viewed differently from the outside and he decided to take actions accordingly. There are some that live in Hoover that are always ready to say that they are going to surpass Birmingham in terms of size and importance – well this is a taste of what’s may come with it, though it will exist whether or not those goals are met. The city is growing and is close to having to deal with being urban, one of the very things that residents that moved out there originally were moving away from. It must begin to respond to that challenge, one that its mayor met head on and passed with flying colors.

The ability of the mayor’s office to affect change outside of its normal parameters is possible as proven by that recent incident in Hoover. There are many that see mayor-elect Langford as more than capable of bringing that mindset to the 3rd floor of Birmingham’s City Hall at the beginning of November. The opportunity to see it in use will no doubt come sooner rather than later.

One interesting thing about his pending first example is the fact that the citizens will hold him responsible for many things outside of his purview. He also will be criticized if it is not the general consensus of the city’s residents. Part of this first phase for Langford will be seeing how he reacts to those who share different viewpoints. He has already demonstrated that he is willing to work with area leaders to address changes and he is moving forward with an agenda without taking a back seat to efforts to call for a runoff from Patrick Cooper. This means that he may have already played that bully pulpit card, albeit quietly, for the first time, and it’s led to some interesting and progressive ideas for the region.

The mayor-elect said on Tuesday night that we needed to buckle up. We also need to be prepared for what’s to come in terms of Langford’s hopes for this city, just how that bully pulpit will be used to accomplish those goals and for the dialogue that will take place because of it.

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. To submit letters in response to this commentary or to contact for general information, use any of the methods listed on our contact page. Otherwise, simply submit your comments below.

Thoughts about Birmingham's mayoral election

It’s definitely been a thrilling ride so far and it does not appear to be ending in the immediate future. Last night, nearly 45% of registered citizens in the city of Birmingham elected Larry Langford as its next mayor. As I write this it appears that Patrick Cooper plans to ask for a recount. A decision on that will come in the near future. Another decision will also follow if the results stand about who will fill the seat vacated by Mr. Langford on the Jefferson County Commission from Montgomery.

I’ve been checking the math with results from other areas of the Southeast and while many may feel that it was a pathetic turnout, our city has outperformed its contemporaries in terms of its level of participation. Hopefully the issues of voting irregularities and any formal requests for a recount will be dealt with swiftly and quickly.

For the record, I was necessarily surprised not by the fact that Langford won the popular vote, but that, if the numbers stand, he has become the next mayor of the city of Birmingham without having to first go through a runoff.

Based on what our polls said, it would be safe to say that the majority of our readership is disappointed with the unofficial results. There are many that are upset and who feel that their voices were not heard. I’d beg to differ.

Birmingham’s young professional population demonstrated that they would not sit by quietly during this election. They made sure that people knew where they stood on the issues and – whether it was here or elsewhere on the web, in print, or in broadcast media – and definitely made people aware of their presence.

The Magic City’s online population demonstrated that the web, with all of its issues and with criticism coming from all sides, could in fact play a major role in discussions about what faces the city and the region. Mainstream media joined in on the act, relying on video podcasts and online forums to aid voters in making an important decision about where the city needs to go next.

So, what are our next steps?

Well, one of the great things about the Internet in general and the blogosphere in particular is the ability to engage people in dialogue. To that end, we have already extended an invitation to Larry Langford to write a column in this very section of The Terminal on a regular basis. If it is determined that a runoff is necessary and Mr. Cooper wins, we will extend the same opportunity to him. NOTE: We have not received a response as of yet, but we will let you know when we do.

The only way we think you can move the city forward is to continue this level of interest and conversation. If those that feel they lost clam up and say nothing afterwards then all is lost. Hopefully providing a platform for open, honest dialogue will help us see tangible progress that all are happy with.

In my original plans for this site, I had never intended to give the election the type of coverage and attention that we did, but I am extremely happy that I did. I am quite grateful to those of you that decided to check in with us from time to time as we all went on this ride together. I am also grateful to those candidates that took the time to answer the questions submitted by The Terminal’s readers. I only hope that we will be able to continue to push more people to become engaged in talking about this city and all that it has to offer.

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. To submit letters in response to this commentary or to contact for general information, use any of the methods listed on our contact page.

Election '07: What do I want in a mayor?

Leading up to next Tuesday, people have been still attempting to make us “make it easy for folks” by picking a candidate for them. I still don’t believe that our primary purpose is to do that. There is a place for suggesting or even grandstanding, but I still don’t quite believe that the place is here. Actually I don’t know of many places where I believe it to be proper save for a courtroom or a debate competition. Maybe the local drinking establishments after a long day of work.

Regardless, it has forced me to think of what I’d actually like to see in a mayoral candidate. The standard for me is actually Martin O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore currently serving as governor of Maryland. There’s also a little bit of Joe Riley of Charleston influencing what I’ve come to expect in political leaders. You can choose to agree or disagree, but you might want to read the rest of this before you decide.

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Election '07: Improved transit should be a no-brainer

It appears that transit is about to become a top priority of the Jefferson County Commission. Probably about the time this post appears online a meeting will either have just finished or still be going on with hopes of beginning the discussion about a truly regional mass transit system for grater Birmingham.

The three commissioners that attended this year’s Regional Chamber of Commerce BIG trip returned with visions of bringing regional cooperation to the forefront of economic development efforts here in Birmingham. This is while the governor speaks about introducing more toll roads into the state to handle the increasing traffic on the state’s busiest roads, including Highway 280.

There are some that believe that Commissioners Carns and Humphreys and Commission President Collins are sincere, yet some are also cynical about their chances of success. They have every reason to think that way. If the issue becomes one of partisan politics instead of one about improving the quality of life not just for the Birmingham region, but for the entire state, then it will certainly see a steep uphill battle. If it is brought to the people of the entire state for a vote as being only about Birmingham and not as an opportunity to demonstrate what can happen in the entire state, it will fail to be approved.

As the regional population ages and transplants and “boomerangs” move into our metropolitan area, the issue of reliable transit will become more and more important and relevant. The mayor and council at the center of the region have good intentions about how to assist our transit authority, though it appears that any true progress in providing temporary support to a transit system in need will now have to wait until it is determined who will be in a runoff for the city’s top job.

Those that agreed to be interviewed for our Your Questions, Their Answers series all agreed that Montgomery did not necessarily understand the importance of this issue to the people of metro Birmingham and the state in general. They all agreed that the mayor should take a larger role in advancing the issue. Whoever gets elected should find ways to work with the commission and keep them motivated to follow through on their commitment to moving the region forward.

For a city that used to boast one of the world’s larger streetcar systems, it should be a no-brainer to return to a reliance of alternative transportation options. Gas prices continue to climb and many are realizing that the commute time could be just a little more productive than it is now if they weren’t having to drive so much. But we do dare defend our rights, particularly against the issue of more taxation. Unfortunately, better quality will not come about in this case until we realize that we cannot more if we are not willing to pay more for it.

This may finally be the time when we stop being provincial in terms of selfishness and with regards to the thought of failure and we take advantage of this opportunity to demonstrate how something like a regional or even statewide transit system can help us bring more jobs into the state and allow more of our residents and visitors to enjoy what the state has to offer.

I’ve learned in my short time living here that the words taxes and transit should not be spoken depending on where you are. People need to use those words with frequency if this city is to regain the infrastructure needed to truly enjoy its urban fabric.

Election '07: definitions needed for urban success

Birmingham News building - Sept. 2007 Former SMN building

This first installment has less to do with comparing as it does with providing a backdrop for an interesting opinion.

There’s a distinct difference between the picture on your left and the one on your right.

The image on the left shows the former home of The Birmingham News in our city center being gutted for purposes of demolition. This will provide a net gain of 30 parking spaces after construction of what many would agree is a beautiful addition to the downtown Birmingham building stock directly across the street.

The image on the right shows the former Savannah Morning News building in downtown Savannah after being completely gutted for purposes of being used for mixed use development in their downtown district called News Place on Ellis Square. To develop it the City of Savannah had to demolish a parking deck on the site of the old City Market and replace it with underground parking, a project that will now provide more than 1,000 spaces to visitors and residents visiting one of the city’s busier districts.

The second example is one that will be part of a region that will have the same population as metro Birmingham in the next 20 years (when you include the portions of South Carolina that are never included in these studies). Some think that prediction could be a little on the conservative side. The first is the one that we currently reside in; one that will become a larger metropolitan area but not necessarily be that urban environment that we all hope and strive for if projects like The News’ continue to occur.

Before someone tells me that I’m using the term incorrectly, I’ll say that urban for me is when you can walk down the street in several neighborhoods and get what you need. It means reliable mass transit that gives you an excuse not to drive. It means not necessarily building taller but building smarter. There are some that have said that we need to build taller buildings just because Mobile built one. My question is response to theirs is, ‘Do we need it now or later?

The idea of losing another beautiful historic building in the name of progress disturbs me, but not in the way you might think. It is what that demolition means, or what it should trigger. See, I’m still not sure that losing building like the News’ former home or our namesake Terminal Station will ever really stir the emotion that is needed to fully realize an urban revitalization renaissance in Birmingham.

I’ve been accused of wanting to save too much, but hear me out. Every time I hand out a business card or show someone one of our t-shirts, they all say “It’s a shame what happened to Terminal Station… I wish that we could bring it back.” There are those that say “I wish we’d done more to save (insert building name here)” when the reason it wasn’t saved was because no one made it an issue, or at least not one that would stir up emotions from both sides. Those feelings are necessary for a city to move forward. I realize that there is a past that few want to remember. There are several pasts that I’m sure many of the specters do not want us to forget in fear that we will repeat them. Some would say we already have.

So what actually makes Birmingham what it is? Why is it that when people fly in and see Vulcan and a now-lit City Federal sign that they marvel at how much there is to do? Perhaps its some of those same things that we think are outdated – the remnants of our urban fabric, or at least the potential for the urban lifestyle that so many seek when they sign on the dotted line to live in our city center and our neighborhoods nowadays. As an aside, we must also remember that the urban lifestyle sought by those that are new to it is not all that it is made up to be on television (but that’s a topic for another time).

Why save buildings? Why not ask those cities that we are always trying to compare ourselves with. Despite their new tall glass towers and their one of their key characteristics is their ability to hold onto a piece of their past. For every building that is torn down, one that evokes the same memories that Loveman’s or Pizitz does for this city adapted for a new use.

You do not have to save every building. What you do need to do is be sure that you’re not going to leave a hole in the fabric of a city’s history that is too large to be mended.

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. You may contact him directly at andre[at]