Here are some recommendations for the Bessemer City Council and School Board races, courtesy of the Progressive Bessemer Coalition.
A few comments about the candidates follow, but I know you all want your meat before your potatoes. And I know you will be surprised at some of these recommendations, especially since I have said before that all of the council members need to be replaced. But when you compare one incumbent to their challenger, there is no contest.
City Council District 1 - David Vance
City Council District 2 - Chester Porter
City Council District 3 - Jessie Burrell
City Council District 4 - Ralph Hodge
City Council District 5 - Ron Marshall
City Council District 6 - Jesse Matthews
City Council District 7 - Cleo King
School Board District 2 - Janet Ruffin
School Board District 7 - Wanda Faye Thomas
It is very unlikely for a candidate to get an endorsement if they don't show up for the only forum provided for voters to see and hear them. But it is not impossible, as noted in the above list of top choices.
Here's a bit about those choices.
David Vance - strong background in law enforcement and youth counseling (YMCA), good ideas on public safety and economic development, and on being a good neighbor. Wants to "fill vacant business buildings" which to me means redevelop downtown.
Chester Porter - wants to revitalize downtown, wants to bring arts to Bessemer, wants to establish a quarterly community clean up day.
Jessie Burrell - Jessie Burrell has been involved in many aspects of improving Bessemer (and the nation) from her advocacy for an elected school board to her community organizing and marching for civil rights. She wants to provide more recreational opportunities for kids and to attract business to District 3, particularly a grocery store. The incumbent Sarah Belcher has been on the council for 16 years. Keep that in mind as you drive though district 3 and look around you.
Ralph Hodge - wants to develop downtown and wants to give the School Board the money that is owed them by the city. His opponent said she would rather "cooperate" and not ask for the money for the school board right now. (Note to Ms. Thigpen - When I voted for the school tax, I did not vote for my tax money to go to the city council. I voted for it to go to the schools. You said the school board didn't need the money now anyway, since they have a surplus. One of the school board candidates told us how that tax money could be used to improve our education and AYP scores.)
Also, Mr. Hodge has experience running a city department and in being held accountable for the expenditures of that department.
Ron Marshall - Most of the questions asked this group were about economic development, and Marshall was very effective in pointing out his marketing background and how this would be an asset in promoting (or allowing other entities to promote) the city. He also has experience in managing a city department.
Jesse Matthews - wants to improve the infrastructure for downtown and older communities revitalization, and also wants to find funding for a rec center. His opponent, Ed May II, did not provide a photo for the brochure and did not complete the education portion of the questionnaire (neglecting to provide the names of the colleges he attended). During the forum, he left the auditorium while other candidates in other races were still speaking, and was not present for the photo op with all the participants afterward. These little things show a lack of respect for the process and for the people. He also indicated he prefers new development rather than the "buildings from the 1920's" (paraphrase). That sounds like the same neglectful attitude toward downtown that we have seen for the last 8 years.
Cleo King - When asked what the number one issue facing the city is he responded "lack of communication." He said we need to change the image of the city and the council needs to set the example. The current council person from District 7, Earl Cochran, has been a disappointment. He answered his first question talking about a failure. the failure of the city to pass his bingo initiative. He answered the second question talking about failure. The failure of the city to be accountable. he sounded too much like Larry Langford when he urged voters to choose him and only then would he reveal his secret revenue generating plan. Ms. Jones was voted out in 2006 because voters had had enough of her. We've still had enough.
Janet Ruffin - Ms. Ruffin has a strong background in student support services at Lawson State and wants to look at over the mountain school districts and see what is working for them regarding AYP scores.
Wanda Faye Thomas - has strong background in working with special needs students and residents at Partlow and Bryce plus teaching in Shelby County School System. Wants to embrace the Hispanic community because (1) all the children are our children and need to be educated and (2) helping the Hispanic students to achieve will also help the AYP scores. Also wants to acknowledge and assist bilingual and ESL students. She wants to use the tax money that the city owes the school system to improve the Pre-K opportunities and to hire or train more teachers for AP (Advanced Placement) programs.
The City of Bessemer Mayor Candidate's forum is tonight at 6:00. I've already made an endorsement in that race, but the forum should be interesting nevertheless.