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Updated: Thursday, 29 Nov 2012, 10:57 PM CST
Published : Thursday, 29 Nov 2012, 10:57 PM CST
GULF SHORES - Gulf Shore Mayor Robert Craft is currently serving his second term as mayor; and dealing with the Gulf oil spill may be one of the biggest crises of his tenure.
As news of the spill continues to make headlines across the country, he said he understands the importance of the financial settlement and restoration for the Gulf Coast. He said the funding from the spill will help make improvements to the beach city's infrastructure and support its tourism industry.
Craft recently shared about the oil spill, hurricanes, his passion for running and public service.
"In 1969, if you lived anywhere in southern Baldwin County, from Lillian to Orange Beach, to Magnolia Springs really all the way over to Fish River to Summerdale, you all went to Foley High School. So I grew up not looking at this as multiple cities. In my mind, it was one place. We all went to school together. We played sports together. We accomplished great things because we had all of us working together," Craft said.
Craft said he sees southern Baldwin County as a region. He grew up in Foley on the family farm and was influenced by a visionary father.
"We were an agricultural family. My father, he grew Gladiolas, cut flowers that we grew outside, grew like corn. He had the ability to grab a hand full of soil, feel it, smell it and say, ‘It needs lime. It needs potassium.’ We've kind of lost that art,” Craft said. "I learned a lot from him, and I wanted to have a role in agriculture, for it to be a part of my life," remembers Craft.
Craft headed to Auburn to study Agricultural Business. After returning to Foley, he saw the industry and agriculture changing.
"The Gladiola business that I wanted to be a part of was going away. You couldn't make money at it. It was just impossible to find the labor and to get the work done in a profitable manner," Craft recalled.
Craft had observed a new crop being farmed. He was asked to manage the business, and eventually was able to buy it.
"Started a turf farm business. The market was right. We had the land. Mobile was exploding. Pensacola was exploding. The whole Interstate 10 corridor, New Orleans, Biloxi, (had) a lot of new development, a lot of new home construction. And, we were close in proximity so that the freight doesn't eat you and kill you. The business was extraordinarily successful in spite of me," Craft said.
"From the turf farm, we built three golf courses and the residential development, which includes a hotel," Craft said.
The Arnold Palmer designed and managed golf courses, and the planned community development were also successful. Craft spent a lot of time at city hall working on "these projects" and that led to an interest in politics.
"The main reason I got involved in politics was because of my desire to see us having more regional cooperation; Foley, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach working together. I just decided that if I really wanted to effect change and if I really wanted to get involved in what I believed, I had to get involved. We've got the ability and the potential to be great, why not? I see it as our responsibility to be great if we can, and so that's what drives me," believes Craft.
He was elected to the Gulf Shores City Council in 2004. In 2008, Craft won his first term as mayor.
"If you're going to sit in a mayor's chair in this city, that's got to be the number one thing you look at. We're prepared every fall for when a Katrina, an Ivan, type of storm hits; we have to be ready for that. Our number one concern always is know when to evacuate; how to recover. All of those things are just critical," states Craft.
However, in the spring of 2010, no one was prepared for an unexpected challenge that threatened Gulf Shores main industry, and its future.
"The spill happened on April 22. We actually didn't get oil on our beaches until around the first of June. We know it’s coming. We're watching it on the news and see this wave of oil that’s creeping towards you. And it was frightening because you just didn't know what to expect. We had no idea what it was going to do to the future of our world environmentally. Obviously with that amount of oil, there were a lot of unknowns of what the long term effect on that, so frightening would be an understatement. Preserving the unique economy we have, I mean, we're a one dimensional city. We have one economy; it’s tourism, and that tourism is dependent on a clean, safe, usable environment. So we've got to make sure everything that we do, we protect the environment and we protect the industry of tourism," Craft stressed.
As an avid runner, Craft has competed in marathons, including Boston's, which he said was a lifelong dream of his. He's also one of a select few who has run in Mobile's Azalea Trail Run every year since the first in 1978. Craft believes that discipline helps him at City Hall.
"It's an important part of my life I enjoy being fit. I enjoy my competitive nature, not with somebody else, but the competitive
nature with me. I can force myself to go run today. I'm a goal oriented person and one of my goals is to make a difference in this city for the future. You just can't roll out of bed and go run a marathon. You have to prepare. It takes sometimes years to get prepared to do that, and I enjoy that long term goal. That's the reason I enjoy this desk. This city is not going to change overnight, so I like long term challenges," shares Craft.
Craft has now turned his fitness attention now to training for and competing in triathlons.
On the BP matter, Craft said he is encouraged somewhat to see the settlement process begin. He said he doesn't believe BP wants to be found negligent in court because, with it being an internationally traded stock company, its future is dependent on shareholder confidence.
Craft added that settlement should be the way all parties prefer because it's much faster and cleaner for everybody involved