By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Save Our Cities, a coalition of religious leaders including the Rev. T.L. Lewis, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Pratt City, and the Rev. Gregory Clarke, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in West End, on Friday endorsed a slate of candidates in the Tues. Aug. 24 election including William Bell for mayor.
The faith leaders made their endorsements during an afternoon press conference in Kelly Ingram Park in downtown Birmingham.
“We’re here today because we believe in the candidates that we have personally vetted. We believe in our mayor [Bell],” said Clark. “It’s time for him to come back and reestablish law and order, and we believe that through him, Dr. Bell, that we have the best chance of receiving federal funds that have already been granted to this city to be used to deal with crime and violence.”
The endorsement is a sign to rescue Birmingham, Bell said.
“Let me thank the clergy, who for over the past many weeks, have sought to vet all of the candidates…because they truly want to see leadership in this community that will take to heart of how we can save our community before it goes down the drain,” Bell said.
Bell is one of seven challenging incumbent Randall Woodfin for mayor including entrepreneur and mental health advocate Cerissa Brown; Birmingham resident Napoleon Gonzalez; business owner Philemon Hill II, Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales, activist Darryl Williams; and businessman Chris Woods.
Woodfin’s administration is giving people false hope, Bell said.
“The current administration is telling you that there’s a knight on a white horse, ready to come in and save Birmingham,” Bell said, “but I’m telling you that there’s evil riding on the horse ready to come in and pillage Birmingham.”
Dr. Harold W. Bass, pastor of Olivet Monumental Baptist Church, said the Woodfin administration has hurt schools and recreation for children, in addition to withholding funding from churches during COVID-19. Bass also pointed out Woodfin’s absence from the mayoral election forums held by churches.
“This administration, when we had our forums, we invited all of those candidates that wanted to serve the 99 communities, these neighborhoods, to give their insight and defend their record on what they have done and what they haven’t done,” Bass said. “This administration showed us that Black lives really don’t matter, would not come to our forums, would not come talk to the people that they are expecting to vote for them.”
Bass said Woodfin has been doing public work, appearing on television but only in the last six months.
“In our neighborhoods, in our communities, [Woodfin’s] administration refused to come,” Bass said, “so we got a candidate [Bell], we believe, will serve all 99 communities. The work that you see going on in Birmingham, right now, is as a result of the plans that he had already implemented.”
Claire Brickson, Woodfin campaign’s communications director, said the mayor’s team communicated with the host organization about the scheduling conflicts that prevented Woodfin’s attendance. “Since being in office, Randall has hosted multiple town halls in every single district in Birmingham,” Brickson said in a statement. “And since the pandemic began, he’s found innovative workarounds to continue speaking with residents from all 99 neighborhoods, whether by hosting virtual town halls or by speaking with folks on their front porches while canvassing. He did three live debates, several forums, and looks forward to continuing to provide this transparency and opportunities for engagement throughout his second term.”
In addition to endorsing Bell for mayor, the group also endorsed the following City Council and Board of Education candidates:
City Council: Clinton Woods (incumbent, unopposed)
Board of Education: Jerry Tate
City Council: Kimberly Jeanty
Board of Education: Terri Michal (incumbent)
City Council: Q. Cory Pettway
Board of Education: Daagye Hendricks (incumbent)
City Council: Richard E. Franklin Jr.
Board of Education: David McKinney
City Council: Crystal N. Smitherman (incumbent)
Board of Education: Yancey Williams Sr.
City Council: Lonnie Franklin Malone
City Council: Celida “Celi” Soto
Board of Education: Antoinette “Toni” King
City Council: Latonya Tate
Board of Education: Le’Darius Hilliard