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Larry P. Langford, former Birmingham mayor, passes at 72

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Times staff report

Larry Paul Langford, former Birmingham and Fairfield mayor and Jefferson County Commissioner, died today. He was 72.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin ordered that all flags at city facilities be flown at half-staff.

“Our hearts go out to the Langford family during this time of loss,’’ Woodfin said.

“Mayor Larry Langford had an unmatched love for his community – a love he expressed through his boldness and creativity. During all of our interactions, one thing was always clear – Mayor Langford was an unabashed advocate for the city he served. His fire for change and passion for people will be a lasting part of his legacy.”

“Above all else, Mayor Langford loved this city,’’ Woodfin said.

Langford was a man who dreamed big. For example he talked of bringing the 2020 Olympics to Birmingham. He once said, “If we don’t try, we are guaranteed nothing will happen. If we do try, who knows? We may get it.”

As mayor of Fairfield, he brought a new vision to the city and the Bessemer area including establishing Visionland Amusement Park, now Alabama Splash Adventure.

He did the same at his next stop on the Jefferson County Commission from 2002 to 2007, where he was elected the first African-American president. He helped pass the penny tax, which has helped pay for more than 10 new schools. That’s when he first proposed replacing aging Legion Field with a domed stadium.

Birmingham Native

Langford grew up in the Loveman Village public housing in Titusville. He graduated from Parker High School in 1965. Langford would serve five years in the U.S. Air Force and later attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in social and behavioral sciences in 1972. While enrolled there, he worked at WBRC as one of the nation’s first black television reporters.

Langford was elected to the Birmingham City Council in 1977 and two years later made an unsuccessful bid for the city’s mayoral seat. But in 1982, he moved to Fairfield. He became that city’s first black mayor in 1988.

Under his leadership, his office increased the city’s sales tax, which he would later use to support the struggling Fairfield City Schools. A vocal advocate for social conservatism and open government, Langford gained notoriety for his outspoken views and willingness to take action –  whether challenging the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity’s practice of holding closed meetings or chasing a pair of purse snatchers near Fairfield City Hall.

Visionland

Perhaps Langford’s most well-known achievement was helping to form the West Jefferson Amusement Authority to finance construction and operation of Bessemer’s $60 million Visionland amusement park in 1998.

After four terms as Fairfield mayor, Langford was elected to the Jefferson County Commission in 2002 and was named president soon after. In his role as Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Langford created the Jefferson Metropolitan Health Care Authority as well as helped with the renovation of Cooper Green Mercy Hospital.

In 2007, Langford successfully ran for the office of mayor in Birmingham, fueled by the campaign slogan, “Let’s Do Something.”

Langford said to residents, “I came to tell you today there will be no more band-aids where surgery is needed. If a domed stadium bothers you then stay home but we are going to build a stadium in this community.”

Ever the visionary, Langford proposed the construction of a domed football stadium, retro-style trolleys to assist with mass transit, a canal from the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to allow cruise ships to dock in the city and advocated for the city to host the 2020 Olympics. Several of those ideas are taking shape today, with the approval of an open-air stadium in downtown Birmingham and the Magic City serving as host of the 2021 World Games.

In 2009, Langford was convicted of 60 counts of bribery, money laundering and other charges. The jury found he accepted about $236,000 in bribes to steer business to Montgomery investment banker Bill Blount. He was handed a 15-year term in a federal prison.

Health Deteriorates

In prison, his health deteriorated and he was issued an oxygen concentrator and nebulizer and needed the use of a wheelchair to get around. According to the prison bureau, he often became fatigued with strenuous exertion and was assigned an inmate companion to assist with movement and in the line where pills were dispensed.

Langford was eventually released from prison in late December due to his failing health. He was then transported to Princeton Baptist Medical Center before his death.

Woodfin said, “Please keep Mayor Langford’s loving wife Melva, family members and friends in your prayers during this difficult time. May he be remembered for his boundless ingenuity and as a fervent voice for the people.”

Langford is survived by his wife, Melva; son, Ronald Strothers; niece, Lena Powe McDonald; brother, Oliver Nance; sister-in-law, Casi Ferguson; grandchildren, Ronald Strothers III and Jared Daniel Strothers; and a host of other nieces, nephews, friends and supporters. His legacy will always be one of innovation, boldness and creativity.

ABC 33/40 News and birminghamal.gov contributed to this post.