By Barnett Wright
Times staff writer
No matter the major issue—the downsizing of Cooper Green Mercy Hospital, planned sewer-rate increases in Jefferson County—state Reps. John Rogers and Mary Moore have stuck together through rain and shine, thick and thin.
For more than a decade, the two Birmingham Democrats could be found inside county courthouse corridors or outside Cooper Green together, fighting for their constituents.
Today, they’re still fighting—not against city, county, or state officials, but against each other.
Proposed changes to the Mayor-Council Act, which lays the ground rules for Birmingham’s municipal government, have not only created a firestorm among residents who have packed hearings to voice concerns about the modifications but also split the two longtime political allies.
Behind the Rift
“This is the worst bill I’ve seen in the 34 years that I’ve been in the legislature,” Rogers said. “It’s that bad.”
Moore, however, supports changes to modernize the law. She said she was offended that Rogers asked her to not speak during a public hearing hosted by state lawmakers on the Mayor-Council Act. She also felt insulted when he called her “stupid” and “gullible” during a radio interview.
“John thinks you’re supposed to do what he tells you to do,” Moore said. “Like when we had that [public] hearing at the courthouse. He’s going to tell me to sit there and don’t say anything. Well, I’m a grown woman. I told John, ‘How dare you tell me to come into a hearing and not say anything.’ If things don’t go John’s way, then you are against him.”
Rogers denied telling Moore to not speak. And he said he never called her stupid.
“All I said was that Mary may not understand what’s going on. If she takes that to mean stupid, that’s wrong,” Rogers said.
He added that supporters of the bill have “Mary carrying their water. They got Mary all fooled up,” Rogers contended.
Rogers, 75, was first elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1982. Moore, 67, was first elected in 2002.
Over the past 14 years, Rogers and Moore formed a formidable team when it came to opposing sewer-bond deals in Jefferson County and changes to health care for the area’s indigent population.
“If you’re right, you’re right. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Moore said. “Issues I stood with John on, were issues he was right on.”
Rogers said Moore has been one of his more reliable associates, and he even would have “taken a bullet to the head” for his fellow Democrat.
Both agree that the partnership began to unravel over the Mayor-Council Act, which would give more power to Birmingham Mayor William Bell.
“Friendship does not mean ownership,” Moore said. “I think John thought he owned me. I told John, ‘I’m not married to you. I’m not your girlfriend. I’m not your woman.’ John thinks I’m his wife. I ain’t his wife.”
Rogers said he and Moore had a four-hour conversation before lawmakers who favored changes to the Mayor-Council Act held a press conference. Rogers said he was surprised to later learn that Moore had attended the press conference and supported changes to the bill.
“If she had come to me early and told me ‘I can’t vote with you John,’ then I would have been fine,” Rogers said. “That’s all I ask. Just tell me where you are. That’s what I ask any politician.”
Issue by Issue
Rogers stressed that he’s not against Moore as much as he opposes what he believes is a flawed bill.
“If I’m fighting the bill, I have to fight everybody who is carrying the bill,” Rogers said. “I can’t pick and choose who to fight. When you’re in a war, you can’t take prisoners.”
Moore said she tried to explain changes to the Mayor-Council Act to Rogers, but he refuses to listen. “Every time I share that with John, he goes off on a tantrum,” Moore said. “So he told me not to talk to him anymore. I said, ‘John that is so high school.’”
Could the two soon put aside their differences?
“In politics, there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies,” Rogers said. “It’s issue-by-issue. I’m hoping that, at some point, she’ll come back around. We might fight today and be friends tomorrow.”