MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Two leading candidates for mayor on Tuesday shared ideas for reducing crime and boosting economic development, but one candidate was absent from the candidates’ forum – incumbent Sandy Stimpson.
The Mobile Area Black Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the forum, said Stimpson gave notice Tuesday afternoon that he could not attend. But the Stimpson campaign told FOX10 News that the mayor declined an invitation last week because of a scheduling conflict. On Wednesday, the campaign provided FOX10 News with emails showing the campaign had told organizers last week the mayor could not attend.
Longtime City Councilman Fred Richardson and Mobile Municipal Judge Karlos Finley, both vying for the top job, blasted the mayor.
“It’s not the first time. … This is the third time that he didn’t show up,” Richardson said. “I don’t have no answer for it.”
Said Finley: “It’s an injustice. The citizens of the city of Mobile, for the mayor not to be present, we have these forums so that the citizens can see how we think on our feet.”
Both challengers promised to tackle crime, which has been trending upward. At the midpoint this year, the city was on a pace for the most intentional homicides in the past 10 years.
“We have a lot of work to do … You would have to be living in another city not to understand what we see, the violence that’s on our streets today,” Finley said.
He added: “The greatest challenge our city faces right now is crime – hands down.”
Finley called for using taxpayer funds provide housing for police officers, similar to what the military does for its soldiers.
“We need more police officers living in the communities in which they serve,” he said. “You see, then our communities will get to know our officers and our officers will get to know our communities.”
Richardson claimed credit for bringing Austal USA and its 4,000 jobs to Mobile and also touted his promotion of the giant Moon Pie drop that has become of staple of New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Richardson said he would tear down the “steel wall” the separates the mayor’s office from the City Council.
“I am for all people, in every neighborhood, all the time,” he said.
Richardson agreed that “crime is out of hand” and took a jab at Stimpson.
“The mayor has separated the people from the Police Department,” he said.
Richardson vowed to foster a personal relationship between officers in charge of the 46 beats in the city and the citizens they serve.
“You will know that officer’s name,” he said. “You will know that officer’s phone number, because I will mail it to you.”
The candidates agreed that improving education is key to reducing crime.
“I support the school system 100 percent,” Richardson said. “We are not going to stop crime until we education every child.”
Finley said creating a separate city-run school system is “something we need to consider as a city.” Richardson said he is not necessarily opposed to the idea but added that Mobile County Public School System Chresal Threadgill – the reigning superintendent of the year – is doing a good job.
Richardson said he would ensure equitable distribution of funds for roads, bridges and other infrastructure. He said the city has not spent a “nickel” of funds made available in recent years through the Metropolitan Planning Organization on projects east of Interstate 65. He took a shot at Stimpson’s “One Mobile” slogan.
“I’m not for One Mobile,” he said. “I’m not for some Mobile. I’m for all Mobile.”
Finley said infrastructure must include more than traditional road-and-bridge projects. He said installing broadband networks is crucial for education and economic development. He also threw his support behind a long-stalled proposal to build a bridge over the Mobile River.
“We need a bridge,” he said. “And people should not have to pay a toll to us it.”
Tuesday was the last day for candidates to qualify for the Aug. 24 election. Two candidates joined the three announced mayoral candidates – Donavette Ely and Michael Young.
Tuesday’s forum also highlighted four candidates seeking to replace retiring District 6 Councilwoman Bess Rich.
Updated at 9:50 p.m. with a response from the Stimpson campaign.