On Thursday morning I ate breakfast there - cheese omelet, side of bacon, toast - across the street from the Alabama Theatre on 3rd Avenue North. I washed it down with a Coke, and beat feet back toward the office. At 20th Street, I turned the corner, walking the sidewalk that flanks the Blach's building. The former home of the Blach's department store, the building has been renovated, like so many others downtown, into loft apartments. And recently it has been the alleged home of one notorious tenant - Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford.
I was just beginning to ponder the mayor's new address when, about halfway along the block, something in my peripheral vision caught my attention. It was a little brown and yellow piece of paper, stuck to the glass front door of the Blach's building.
The branding effect of advertising is an amazing thing - corporate brainwashing and visual triggers. After enough exposure, the associations are instantaneous, even with just a color scheme. These are the things that went through my head faster than it took to turn my eyes: Goldenrod and chocolate means UPS. And that little sticky note means someone has a package waiting for them there.
I admit it. I'm a nosey person, a snoop and a spy, but I'm your spy. It's compulsive, looking over shoulders, eavesdropping on conversations. There's a little voice inside my head that likes to pry and to ask pesky questions, such as ...
Who's that sticky note for?
So I read the note.
"To: L. Langford."
No surprises there.
And then my curiosity asked ...
I wonder how long it has been there?
The UPS delivery person had stopped there the day before. A checked box indicated that this note was UPS's third and final attempt to deliver the mayor's package. Behind the glass door, adhered to the mayor's post office box, were two more sticky notes from UPS. The top one was from Nov. 27, the second attempt, which presumably covered the first one from the day before - Monday, Nov. 26.
And finally that pesky voice asked ...
I wonder how long it will be there before someone takes it down?
The same day the UPS truck first arrived at Langford's apartment building - Monday, Nov. 26 - Jefferson County Circuit Judge Allwin Horn ruled that Langford was a legal resident of the City of Birmingham and a qualified candidate for mayor. Langford's opponent in the mayoral election, Patrick Cooper, had challenged the results based on residency.
In the order, Judge Horn found that the law does require a person to abandon his previous domicile before claiming a new one. However, he also wrote that a domicile is defined largely by intent. In that respect, Langford was a citizen of Birmingham, even though he registered to vote here more than two weeks before he had furniture here, and even though Langford still spent three-to-four nights per week at his Fairfield home, which he still owns and had not put up for sale. Judge Horn's ruling ignored many of Cooper's claims, even the ones Langford admitted during his testimony in court.
On Friday morning, the sticky note was still there.
"Langford's sworn testimony was that in or about June 2007 it was his intent to abandon his Fairfield home as his residence and to establish the loft apartment as his residence in order to run for the office of Mayor of Birmingham," Horn wrote. "Although some will undoubtedly question Langford's motives, based upon the evidence, the acts of Langford and his wife and the factual matters established by the evidence separate and apart from Langford's testimony, this Court is reasonably satisfied that Langford changed his domicile from Fairfield to Birmingham and properly satisfied all legal requirements to be a candidate for the office of Mayor at the time of his qualification in August, 2007 and at the time of the election on October 9, 2007."
On Saturday morning, the sticky note was still there.
Last Tuesday night, a day after Judge Horn's ruling, Mayor Larry Langford pitched his tax-borrow-and-spend plan in a public hearing before more than 200 city residents. The speech was a warmed-over version of his inaugural address, but it sounded no less like a sermon. Each quip, each witty one-liner elicited a cacophony of amens and hallelujahs. The wall separating church from state had been breeched, as no one could any longer distinguish one from the other. What Birmingham needs, the new mayor explained, is nothing short of a resurrection.
"I'm sick and tired of people who live outside the city telling us what we can and cannot do," Langford said.
On Sunday morning, the sticky note was still there.
Last week, Langford was out of town for two days at a conference in Boston. He left sometime Wednesday and he returned Friday afternoon. Regardless, Langford claimed the downtown Birmingham address in June of this year and six months later it still appears he's not living there. Cooper has appealed Judge Horn's ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court, but don't count on a different outcome there. Langford is here to stay, even if he doesn't stay here.
On Monday morning, the sticky note was still there.
On Tuesday morning, more than a week after the UPS driver posted the first sticky note at the Blach's building door, I asked Langford when was the last time he had visited his downtown apartment. He hesitated. For a moment he appeared frustrated, and then agitated, and then his eyes narrowed and the quick flush of exasperation faded.
"Yesterday," he said, and then he stormed away.
On Tuesday afternoon, the sticky note was still there.
War on Dumb is a column about political culture. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org