This house is the home of Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford.
The issue of Mayor Langford's residency is not a new one. It's an old joke that no one laughs at anymore. But just to belabor the point, I conscripted one of Birmingham Weekly's contributing writers, Madison Underwood, for a little project. Periodically we would wake up just before sunrise and drive from Birmingham (where we both live) to Fairfield. We'd navigate the Fair Oaks subdivision to Larry Langford's house to see if his car was parked in the driveway. We'd shoot video. We'd take pictures. And we'd do this enough times until a reasonable person could conclude that Langford still lived there and there alone.
Mayor Langford drives a Cadillac Escalade EXT. After his taste in clothes, cars are the objects of his cupidity. Wherever his Escalade is parked, Langford is near.
On the morning of March 13, the Escalade was parked in the driveway.
Immediately after Langford won the 2007 mayoral election, one of his rivals, attorney Patrick Cooper, challenged his qualification for the office on the basis of residency. Cooper contended that Langford never moved to Birmingham, even though Langford had rented an apartment downtown and changed his voter registration to that address. The lawsuit went before Circuit Judge Allwin Horn. In court, Cooper's attorney produced evidence that Langford still lived in Fairfield, including utility bills, tax records and Langford's own testimony. At the time, Langford told the court that he typically spent three to four nights per week in each location - the downtown apartment and his Fairfield home.
Cooper's lawyer argued that in order to establish a new residence first you must abandon your old one. Langford testified that if someone walked into his Fairfield house, they would conclude that someone lived there. He had not abandoned it. However, Judge Horn was reluctant to overturn an election. He ruled that residency is largely a matter of intent. Since Langford testified that he intended to move to Birmingham, then he could legally qualify as a resident here.
On the morning of March 20, the Escalade was parked in the driveway.
A year and a half later, though, we have one benefit Judge Horn lacked when he made his ruling - hindsight. We don't have to rely on Langford's testimony about his intent because we now have something else with which to compare it. We have his behavior - his actual actions. Actions speak louder than words, even if those words were given under penalty of perjury.
On the morning of March 27, the Escalade was parked in the driveway.
Just for math geeks out there, lets assume Langford was telling the truth when he said he split his time evenly between the two addresses. That means that if you drove to Fairfield once, you'd have a 50 percent chance of seeing his car in his driveway. Every trip after that, the odds of catching him every time are cut in half, so the chances for catching him there twice in a row would be 25 percent. Five times in a row? The odds of that would be slightly more than three percent - the equivalent of flipping a coin five times and landing on all heads - if Langford was telling the truth.
On the morning of April 6, the Escalade was parked in the driveway.
When Langford was arrested on public corruption charges last year, he had to give one and only one address to the federal probation office. At his initial appearance, the federal magistrate told Langford in very clear terms that if he were found living at any other address he would be in violation of his release and could go straight to jail. That probation record is not a public document, but let's assume Langford wrote on it one of two addresses. If he wrote that he lived in Birmingham, then by living in Fairfield, he is violating his probation. If he wrote that he lived in Fairfield, then he is not a Birmingham resident and is not legally mayor.
On the morning of April 15, the Escalade was parked in the driveway.
It's clear that Langford still lives in Fairfield and never moved to Birmingham. Again, this isn't new, but what's so astonishing is that it's not news.
I'm not proud of our little project. I'm ashamed I took so long to do it and I'm saddened that no one beat us to it.
For television or newspapers, this is an easy story to do, and it's at least as newsworthy as half the stuff you see on any of the nightly broadcasts. If some poor sucker gets ripped off buying the wrong kind of aluminum siding, Fox 6 "On Your Side" will climb up the salesman's back, but if Larry Langford is illegally mayor and possibly guilty of perjury, every TV photographer will chuck his camera in the river before making that trip to Fairfield.
"I'm sick and tired of people who live outside the city telling us what we can and cannot do," Langford said at a townhall meeting more than a year ago. Since then he's repeated that line often, but except for one cartoon by Scott Stantis and a few smug comments from John Archibald, when has The Birmingham News called Langford out on his obvious hypocrisy?
If the Birmingham Post-Herald were still around, there's no way a story like this would have gone unreported, but this the reality of living in a one-newspaper town and the reason we risk soon living in a no-newspaper town.
Finally, all of this is indicative of something significant about Birmingham. Even the mayor's fiercest enemies won't exploit an obvious vulnerability. The mayor doesn't live here, and while lots of people grouse and groan about it, not one person in this whole town has the initiative to file a lawsuit challenging Langford's claim to the office. Birmingham has so little self-respect that no one cares anymore if even the mayor lives here.
Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford doesn't live in Birmingham. I'm not sure I blame him.
War on Dumb is a column about political culture. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org