That accomplishment was all the more improbable considering the clouds awhirl on Langford'92s horizon. Already two federal investigations '97 one by the Justice Department and another by the Securities and Exchange Commission '97 were probing a series of bond deals at Jefferson County, where Langford had served as a county commissioner and commission president. Those deals had enriched Bill Blount, a close Langford friend, and left the county on the precipice of financial collapse.
But no matter. Once in office, Langford broke into a political sprint, tossing ideas and proposals over his shoulder as councilors, critics and the community tried to keep up.
As Langford begins his second year in office, Birmingham Weekly looks back at the first, recounting what has been forgotten and taking tally of what should be remembered.
'95 Jefferson County Commissioner Larry Langford defeats incumbent Mayor Bernard Kincaid and eight other challengers to become Birmingham mayor. The runner-up in that election, attorney Patrick Cooper, files a lawsuit claiming Langford had never moved from his Fairfield home to an apartment in downtown Birmingham. In a circuit court hearing, Cooper'92s attorney showed where Langford had not put up his Fairfield home for sale, still received bills and bank statements at that house, still received his Jefferson County paychecks there and had claimed his most recent homestead tax exemption on the Fairfield house. Langford testified he spent three to four nights per week at each address. Judge Allwin Horn ruled that residency was a matter of intent and that Langford intended to move to Birmingham.
'95 Mayor-elect Langford announces his choice for Public Works director, Rickey Kennedy, a city landscape supervisor. Langford met Kennedy when Kennedy was cutting the grass in Linn Park. The new job came with a $100,000 pay increase and put Kennedy in charge of the $54.7 million Public Works budget. The Public Works department is the second largest department in the city. Later the Jefferson County Personnel Board declared Kennedy unqualified for the job and ordered the mayor to make a new appointment. To date Langford has defied that order.
'95 After a reporter approaches Langford in a Hoover restaurant, Langford arrives at the Birmingham News and has a heated discussion with editor Tom Scarritt. According to sources at the paper, Langford threatened to take out restraining orders on News reporters. Following the meeting, Scarritt instructs staff not to approach Langford or contact Langford outside of press conferences.
'95 Before taking office, Langford effectively fires Police Chief Annetta Nunn. In an interview with ABC 33/40, Langford says he will retain Nunn as a consultant to finish upgrades in police technology. Despite the promise, Langford never gives Nunn any such contract.
'95 Langford is sworn in as Birmingham mayor. In his inauguration speech, he promises to build a domed stadium, lambasts parents for buying children designer clothes and once again declares that what children need most is corporal punishment.
'95 Langford says he is in talks with Mall of America to build a new shopping center in Birmingham. The mall would be adjacent to a new aquarium. '93If Atlanta can have Beluga whales, we can too,'94 Langford says.
'95 During his first week in office, Langford gives the Birmingham City Council a copy of his Birmingham Economic and Community Revitalization Ordinance. In spite of Alabama'92s open records law, Langford marks the envelopes '93Personal and Confidential. Not for Distribution. Only Mayor May Comment on Contents.'94 Within hours the council leaks the contents to the media, infuriating the mayor.
The contents of the envelopes consist of four pages: a breakdown of how the city would spend a massive tax increase, a page photocopied from Time magazine showing a picture of the One Laptop Per Child XO computer, a column by Birmingham News editorial writer Eddie Lard about mass transit in Birmingham and a comparison of sales taxes in Jefferson County.
Langford'92s plan would double the city'92s business license fees and increase sales tax by one cent on the dollar. The new revenue would pay for a domed stadium, mass transit, college scholarships, police and fire improvements, economic development and new streets and sidewalks. The breakdown of the new expenditures includes mistakes in basic arithmetic.
'95 As Langford pitches his tax hike to the council and voters, the figures change at least twice. Instead of investing $17 million per year in mass transit, the mayor'92s office quietly changed that number to $9 million. When confronted, the mayor insisted the plan included $17 million of new funding. This would later prove to be a lie.
'95 When questioned by the city council, Langford will not say where a domed stadium might go. He blasts councilors for delaying his tax plan, and in a public hearing he declares, '93If a penny is going to break you, then you are already broke, anyway.'94 Despite the shifting numbers and lack of details, the city council approves Langford'92s tax hike. Councilor Valerie Abbott casts the lone abstention.
'95 Mayor Langford proposes that the city tear down Boutwell Auditorium and give the property to the Birmingham Museum of Art. Langford says the facility was named after a racist mayor who gave Bull Connor free reign at City Hall. In fact, Boutwell was no friend of Connor'92s and defeated him twice for Birmingham mayor. After debating the issue for an hour, the council tables the proposal.
'95 Langford also claims that Legion Field, which he also wants to demolish, was named after a demon in the Bible. In fact, it was named in honor of the American Legion.
'95 With its attention span exhausted by the Boutwell debate, the council approves nearly $30,000 for renovations to City Hall. Councilor Roderick Royal questions the expenditure, but his colleagues gripe about his curiosity. Later it turns out that at least $12,000 of that money paid for a new deck outside the mayor'92s office where Langford could smoke without having to walk a short distance to the existing deck down the hall.
'95 The media, including Birmingham Weekly, request public records about the renovations to the mayor'92s office. Langford becomes irate about it in a committee meeting. He says he has a problem with leaks to the media. '93As soon as I find out who they are, they won'92t work here anymore,'94 he says.
'95 Following a speech to the Birmingham Rotary Club, Langford has a verbal altercation with Birmingham News publisher Victor Hanson III. Langford used profanity and accused Hanson of being a racist. The newspaper did not report the confrontation.
'95 In his second interview with Securities and Exchange Commission lawyers in Miami, Langford refuses to answer most questions on the basis of unspecified constitutional rights. In a back-and-forth with investigators, Langford refuses to actually plead the Fifth Amendment. Later, Montgomery investment banker Bill Blount invokes the same unspecified constitutional rights.
'95 In one of his few major staffing changes, Langford replaces finance director Michael Johnson with former Jefferson County finance director Steve Sayler. At the county, Sayler helped direct billions in disastrous interest rate swaps and left the county'92s financial records in such shambles that to date the county has not been able to produce an audited financial statement.
'95 A sinkhole opens in the backyard of a Bush Hills home in western Birmingham.
'95 In his State of the City address, Langford promises that his administration will move so quickly that his critics will not have enough time to keep up. In the same speech, he says that city will be giving $9 million of new funding to mass transit, contradicting his earlier promise of $17 million. The shift in numbers still goes unnoticed, even by BJCTA Director David Hill. In the speech, Langford also said that Bo Jackson would be investing in a new Birmingham grocery store.
'95 With a dedicated funding source for a domed stadium, Langford says he wants to put the facility near the greyhound race track in eastern Birmingham, not downtown at the BJCC as dome proponents wanted. Campaign finance disclosures show that Birmingham Race Course owner Milton McGregor was the biggest donor to Langford'92s mayoral campaign. Langford insists this is just a coincidence.
'95 The mayor'92s office proposes a $1.4 million contract annually renewable with Ion Interactive to provide camera surveillance for the Birmingham Police Department. Ion Interactive was started by Claude Estes IV, a Birmingham accountant. Despite companies around the country that provide similar products and services, the contract is not put out for bid. The council approves the contract.
'95 The mayor'92s office proposes a $1.3 million, 12-month contract with Tech Providers, Inc. to install financial software and train city employees to use it. Tech Providers Inc. was started by Claude Estes IV. Despite companies around the country that provide similar products and services, the contract is not put out for bid. The council approves the contract.
'95 The Bush Hills sinkhole gets wider and deeper, threatening homes and a city street. It become a fascination of TV news and Birmingham City Council meetings.
'95 Langford creates the Birmingham Education Initiative to implement a $3.5 million program to give cheap laptops to Birmingham students. He puts former Jefferson County commissioner and close friend John Katopodis in charge of the program. Court records show that Katopodis and Langford set up a similar laptop charity called Computer Help for Kids. Court records also show that Computer Help for Kids money was withdrawn from ATMs at casinos, had paid for trips to the Bahamas and Egypt and that the charity had hired a gay porn star with questionable expertise to repair used computers. The IRS and Justice Department investigate. On the defensive from the bad publicity, Langford dissolves the BEI and Katopodis ceases his involvement.
'95 With the BEI dissolved, the mayor and council buy cheap laptops directly from the One Laptop Per Child program. The mayor says every student in grades one through eight will receive a laptop. There are about 18,000 students in grades one through eight in Birmingham schools. The city buys 15,000 laptops.
'95 The mayor'92s office proposes a $150,000 contract for Louisiana-based Stuart Consulting to help manage the Public Works department. A Birmingham Weekly report exposes that the same company was involved in dirty campaign tricks against city councilor Valerie Abbott in 2005. Also, court records show that the owner of the company, Frank Stuart, is a close friend of John Katopodis. The company shares a Birmingham address with the BEI, Computer Help for Kids and the Holy Family Foundation, a charity started by Langford'92s wife. Councilors question why an outside firm should do the work of the Public Works director, Rickey Kennedy. The mayor'92s office withdraws the contract before it can go to a vote.
'95 A transcript of Langford'92s first SEC deposition reveals close and questionable financial ties between Langford, Montgomery investment banker Blount and lobbyist Al LaPierre. The records show that, despite having nearly $270,000 of personal income in 2006, Langford accrued suffocating personal debt, nearly $70,000 of it for clothes. Rather than pay these expenses himself, Langford received '93loans'94 from LaPierre, who got the money from Blount. During the same period, Langford directed county business to Blount'92s investment bank and to Wall Street banks that were partnered with Blount. In the interview, Langford says he did what Sayler and Norm Davis, the county'92s financial advisor, told him was best.
'95 After swallowing a house, destroying a block of a city street and displacing two families, the Bush Hills sinkhole finally quits sinking. City workers fill in the hole. The work costs nearly $1 million.
'95 During a closed-door meeting with Birmingham business leaders, tensions rise between Langford and Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce President Russell Cunningham. Business leaders who had supported Langford'92s tax hike were upset that Langford was not investing as much in transit as he promised and were also concerned about Langford'92s plans to put a domed stadium near the dog track rather than downtown. Langford and Cunningham nearly come to blows. Later, Langford claims he was surprised to learn that the Chamber had added '93regional'94 to its name, even though this happened five years earlier, before Langford had attended at least two out-of-town trips with the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce.
'95 With one of the highest per-capita murder rates in America, Birmingham'92s problem can be solved with prayer in sackcloth and ashes, Mayor Langford says. At Boutwell Auditorium, he hosts a prayer rally, where more than 1,000 residents don sackcloth and mark their foreheads with ashes. Despite the stated purpose of the rally, the speakers focus less on the city'92s crime problem than on Langford, who one preacher says was chosen by God to be mayor of Birmingham. In addition to his sackcloth and ashes, Langford wears a Rolex and designer shoes. The rally has no discernable impact on Birmingham'92s murder rate.
'95 Langford redirects $48 million of funding meant for a domed stadium and school infrastructure to build an Olympic-style village at Fair Park. The council approves the plan.
'95 Langford proposes a plan to make bus fees free for the summer. The council approves the plan but later rescinds the decision after the transit authority says it is a bad idea. This begins a feud between Langford and transit director Hill that lasts until Hill leaves the system for another job in San Francisco.
'95 The SEC files a civil lawsuit against Langford, Blount and LaPierre. In the lawsuit, the SEC claims that Blount and LaPierre gave Langford money and things of value and in exchange Langford directed county bond business to Blount and his clients. In response, Langford says you can sue a ham sandwich if you take off the lettuce and tomato. Meanwhile, the defendants'92 lawyers argue that the SEC lacks jurisdiction.
'95 Mayor Langford submits his first Birmingham budget to the city council. The $428.9 million proposed budget is nearly $100 million more than the previous year'92s budget from Bernard Kincaid. Instead of giving the traditional budget message, the mayor plays a video prepared by his staff. Only two minutes of the 12-minute video addresses actual numbers, 25 seconds of which explain where the city would find another $100 million in new revenue. Later, Langford attributes the new revenue to the December tax increase, but a closer examination shows that'92s not entirely true. The proposed budget dips $24 million into the city'92s reserves and counts salary surpluses twice.
'95 The mayor misses the statutory deadline for submitting a capital budget to the city council. Nearly two months later, he gives the council a capital budget.
'95 The city council nearly passes the mayor'92s budget with minor changes before realizing at the last minute that the mayor has dipped $24 million into reserves. The council cuts expenditures and the mayor threatens to veto the budget, which he does not.
'95 Langford initially refuses a parade permit to Central Alabama Pride for its gay pride parade. Under fire, he grants the permit, but unlike mayors Richard Arrington and Kincaid, Langford refuses to give the organization its traditional proclamation and he denies them help of city workers to hang gay pride flags along the parade route. Central Alabama Pride later sues Langford for discrimination.
'95 Langford says Birmingham will bid for the 2020 Olympic Games. Despite a lack of sports facilities, a dearth of hotel space, a dilapidated transit system and a serious crime problem, Langford says he believes the 2020 Summer Olympics is a reasonable goal for Birmingham. He appoints an Olympics committee.
'95 The mayor'92s office quits giving to the city council monthly financial reports called '93blue books,'94 which are required by the Mayor-Council Act.
'95 The city purchasing department solicits bids for a 2008 Cadillac EXT nearly identical to the one Langford personally uses. Langford claims that he didn'92t want the vehicle because he already owns one and wanted the city to make his lease payments. An irate Langford then reassigns the city purchasing officer to another job.
'95 Langford says he has a '93top secret'94 Birmingham survival plan that he will share only with Birmingham business leaders in a closed-door meeting. He is escorted into the meeting by two Birmingham police officers wearing jackboots and toting submachine guns. On the way into the meeting, he gives a copy of the survival plan to the press. While Langford speaks to the business leaders, one of his machine-gun-toting escorts faints. The survival plan turns out to be a scheme to shuffle money meant for the domed stadium to other capital projects.
'95 The city gives authority to the Johnson-Walker law firm to pursue predatory mortgage lenders in Birmingham. Despite the contract including a contingency fee, the mayor'92s office would later express surprise when the firm sues several major banks, including Birmingham-based Regions. Curiously, Dagney Johnson-Walker is the sister-in-law of Claude Estes IV, who has received at least two no-bid contracts from the city during Langford'92s tenure.
'95 An advisory committee of business leaders conclude that the site adjacent to the BJCC downtown would be the best location for a domed stadium, not at the Birmingham Race Course.
'95 Langford says that he wants to legalize video bingo at the Birmingham Race Course. He gets the council to approve a resolution encouraging the Alabama Legislature to approve of bingo at the dog track.
'95 Langford proposes the city build several large fountains on the scale of Trafalgar Square throughout the city.
'95 Seven months into its 12-month contract to install the city'92s financial software, Tech Providers, Inc. runs out of money to do the job. The company requests a new $3 million contract. Principal Claude Estes IV cannot guarantee the city council that even this will be enough. Most councilors don'92t remember the first contract and are surprised to discover that Estes'92 office on Magnolia Avenue is the address for Tech Providers and Ion Interactive. Also, it is discovered that Tech Providers came under scrutiny after receiving similar no-bid contracts from the state during the Don Siegelman administration. The council cuts the contract to $2.7 million after it discovers $300,000 of the money would come from small projects in the council districts. After the adjustment, the council approves the contract.
'95 Finance Director Sayler tells the council that the finance department can no longer produce blue books or equivalent financial statements, despite being required to do so by law. Sayler explains that when the city began installing the new accounting software it did not keep parallel accounting systems. Because the new system isn'92t fully installed, the city would not be able to produce the financial statements, possibly until April 2009. This is almost precisely what happened at Jefferson County, where the failure to keep parallel systems has left the finance department there unable to produce audited financial statements for the last two years.
'95 Mayor Langford proposes the city partner with the county to buy the Century Plaza mall. Under Langford'92s plan, the city and county would turn the mall into a regional senior center. Meanwhile, Jefferson County struggles to cut tens of millions of dollars from its budget to stave off default on its bond debts and avoid bankruptcy. At the county, Langford'92s proposal receives virtually no notice.
'95 Former Jefferson County Commissioner Mary Buckelew pleads guilty to a federal charge of obstruction of justice. According to the plea, Buckelew committed perjury before a grand jury investigating Mayor Langford, among others.
'95 A federal grand jury investigating Mayor Langford returns a 98-count indictment against Katopodis. Prosecutors accuse Katopodis of using the charity funds from Computer Help for Kids to pay for trips to Mississippi casinos, the Bahamas and Egypt, and other personal expenses. Katopodis pleads not guilty. The federal investigation into Langford continues.
Kyle Whitmire is a Birmingham Weekly staff writer and columnist. Write to email@example.com