The studious workaholic from District 3, Valerie Abbott, beat her opponent, Howard Bayless, handily. Abbott has a tradition of letting her hair down on election night — a practice she either forwent or forgot Tuesday night. Throughout the campaign, she refused to be dragged into the gutter, despite the fliers and phone banks trying to pull her there.
Similarly, Maxine Parker bested all her District 4 opponents and made the fight look easy. Parker has the reputation for being the councilor with the greatest economy of words. Perhaps her performance Tuesday night will inspire her colleagues to turn down the verbosity. I doubt it.
Steven Hoyt is coming back, too, albeit after an election night near-death experience. Geri Robinson fought Hoyt down to the last box in District 8, but at the end of the night, the endorsements from some of Birmingham’s power brokers weren’t enough to help Robinson to overtake the incumbent.
But not everybody gets a second chance in a runoff. In District 1, voters (ahem) kicked Joel Montgomery to the curb in favor of challenger Lashunda Scales. The chair of the Public Safety Committee wasn’t so safe in public two years ago, taking a late-night spill in a Five Points South parking lot. After an altercation with the pavement and then police, Montgomery was arrested for public intoxication. His mug shot goes on the Wall of Shame, right between James Brown and Nick Nolte. He looked like he’d lost a fight with a baseball bat and a cheese grater.
On the dais, he tried to win arguments by being louder than the other councilors. Council President Carole Smitherman might have the patience of a stone, but a month ago even she called him a bully and from the dais asked God to help her keep her temper under control.
In recent months, Montgomery championed licenses for bingo halls throughout the city — the kind of doublewide casinos Birmingham ran out of town just four years ago. While his colleagues postponed voting on bingo permits until after the election, Montgomery grew more and more obstinate and indignant.
Montgomery was a blowhard who irritated his colleagues and embarrassed his constituents, but thanks to Scales, if Montgomery wants to spew anymore vitriol, it’ll be in a bar bathroom somewhere, not at City Hall.
Councilor Carol Duncan is in trouble. Eight years ago, Duncan won her District 2 seat with the help of her then-friend Kim Rafferty. On Tuesday, Rafferty forced Duncan into a runoff, or perhaps it was the other way around. Duncan came in second place, and the fight between these two promises to get ugly before the election is over. A large field of candidates in District 2 will leave Rafferty and Duncan clamoring for endorsements, but it’s hard to imagine many of them going to the incumbent. Rafferty has the wind in her sails, while Duncan has to make good with her disaffected constituents. (Edge: Rafferty. Also: Race Most Likely to End in Physical Violence.)
District 5 must be the land of second chances. Eight years ago, Elias Hendricks beat William Bell for that seat. Four years ago, Bell beat Hendricks to take it back. Bell later won a race for county commission and the city council appointed Jonathan Austin to take his place. After the appointment, the council discovered discrepancies in Austin’s résumé, in addition to an arrest for drug possession he hadn’t disclosed to them.
Hendricks can win if he can learn a lesson from Bell. Bell convinced voters that he’d changed and that the defeat had humbled him. If Hendricks can follow that template, he stands a good chance of beating Austin in six week. (Edge: Hendricks.)
Council President Carole Smitherman has made enemies, and they all lined up behind challenger Sheila Tyson. The New Jefferson County Citizens’ Coalition endorsed Tyson, and mayoral hopeful Patrick Cooper helped Tyson (his former campaign manager) raise money for media buys. Tuesday night, that help was enough to get Tyson into a runoff, trailing slightly behind Smitherman.
With Mayor Larry Langford’s corruption trial pending a week after the runoff, the District 6 race is a huge variable in everyone’s political calculations. If Smitherman were to win and remain council president, she would become mayor in the event Langford were convicted. That could give her a leg up in a special election to fill that seat permanently. A lot of mayoral hopefuls, including Cooper and possibly former Mayor Richard Arrington, understand that. Knocking Smitherman out now would effectively remove her from any contention in a mayoral election.
Despite all the political forces aligned against her, Smitherman and her husband, Sen. Rodger Smitherman, have made politics the family business. She has a good campaign ground-game. When the Smithermans go door-to-door in a neighborhood, it looks like an invasion — sometimes dozens of school kids in their campaign trademark blue shirts.
What’s more, Smitherman has spent her entire life in District 6 and knows it as well as anyone. She’s fighting for her political life and she has challenged Tyson to take that fight into a debate. Smitherman knows that Tyson has a short temper. In a side-by-side comparison, Tyson’s unbridled invective could destroy her chances when compared to Smitherman’s grace under fire. (Edge: Smitherman.)
After the death of Miriam Witherspoon, the council chose to leave the seat vacant until the election. In six weeks, voters will decide who takes Witherspoon’s place on the dais. On Tuesday night, Jay Roberson nearly won without a runoff but late returns left him short of a clear majority. Regardless, in a field of seven candidates, that’s a strong showing for the Samford University Assistant Athletic Director. Ernestine Williams will compete with Roberson for those remaining votes. (Edge: Roberson.)
Councilor Roderick Royal will again face former Councilor Leroy Bandy in a runoff. It’s Groundhog Day all over again. Despite making the runoff, Bandy didn’t make a strong showing Tuesday night. Rather, he just edged ahead of two other candidates to make the runoff. Royal has beaten Bandy twice already. He should be well practiced at it by now. (Edge: Royal.)
War on Dumb is a column about political culture. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org