By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Many words have been used to explain the departure of Judge Mark Kennedy from Chairmanship of the Alabama Democratic Party, but only a handful have been printed to understand the position of one of the last heroes of Alabama’s democratic legacy.
Love him or hate him, Dr. Joe Reed stands as one of the remaining titans of Alabama’s Democratic Party. A man who for a decade has fought and bled Democratic blue. Like the first pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses, Reed held sway over democratic politics in Alabama during its Golden Age.
In 2010, Alabama voters rejected Democrats en masse and now the state seems firmly in the grip of a Republican super majority.
During the last several days the airing of a so-called feud between Kennedy and Reed has been the lead in many news accounts.
Now, Reed tells his side of the story to the Alabama Political Reporter.
“Let’s start from day one,” said Reed in what was to be an hour-long interview. “I had not really known Judge Kennedy before he came to us and asked to become Chairman of the Party,” said Reed. “I knew him as a public servant and that was about all.”
Reed says that Kennedy approached him about taking over the helm of the party after the departure of Joe Turnham.
“He came and asked me if I would help him run as Chairman of the party, and I said to him, ‘Why not?’” Reed said that Kennedy was given the job basically because there was no one else who really wanted it. “He served only two years and four months and during that time we talked and got along okay,” said Reed.
But there were problems, Reed said that some things occurred “that caused me some concerns.” One was Kennedy’s failure to submit a budget in December 2012, in accordance with the party’s bylaws.
“The Democratic bylaws require, among other things, that the chairman submit a budget by the 15th day of December,” said Reed, “after that the executive board then would normally meet the last week in December.” But Reed says, “The budget was not submitted, neither did we have a meeting.”
Reed said there were staff concerns during Kennedy’s tenure in particular the firing Felix Parker. Parker served in part as director of voter management he was terminated from that position on January 7, 2013. It has been reported that Reed gave Kennedy orders to rehire Parker and that Kennedy refused.
Reed seemed to indicate that there was some problem in Kennedy’s mind with the fact that Parker worked with the Black Caucus on the reapportionment issues. Reed said that having someone to assist in that role has been in existence “since the days of Bob Vance.” Reed said, “There was always somebody there to help the Black Caucus. All the other chairs had folks…had someone to help…this was no different…when we had money to hire somebody.”
There was also to be contention over the opening of a field office in Birmingham. It has been said that Kennedy wanted to establish a bigger presence in the financial center of the state to attract a larger donor base. Reed said he and the executive committee were left completely in the dark as Kennedy executed his “plot,” as Reed referred to the plan.
“At no time, at NO time, did the chair bring that information to the executive board or even talk to anybody about it,” said Reed.
According to Reed it was the re-occurrence of command without consent that began to cause a rift between Kennedy and the executive committee.
“I went out to California to the Rose Bowl game….When I came back Felix had been fired. At no time did the Chair talk to me or say anything about it,” said Reed. “Then, when I went to the inauguration…it was on the wire that the chairman had employed two new folk to work out of the Birmingham office.”
He continues, “No budget had been adopted, no money had been laid aside for that and the executive board knew nothing about it. These are the facts.”
Around this time many board members began to question Kennedy’s activities and ask that a meeting be set to speak with Kennedy. “I called the chairman. I said, ‘Mr. Chairman, some of the members want to meet and talk to you about these personnel matters including Felix.’ The chairman said, ‘I will talk to only you and Nancy Worley.’ I said Mr. Chairman, you can’t just talk to two people, that’s not gonna solve this. So, he then said ‘Well, maybe I’ll bring some of the staff.’ I said ‘No, that doesn’t make up the board.’”
Reed said that Kennedy would not agree with a meeting of the board, so the executive committee was forced to use its powers under the bylaws to bring Kennedy to the table. Under the bylaws, eight members of the board can call a meeting itself. “We notified him that we wanted a meeting and set the date and time and place we wanted it to be…and the issues we wanted cover.”
The dust-up at the meeting has been widely reported. This has also been given as the reason in part that Kennedy resigned. However, Reed doesn’t buy the narrative that Kennedy, nor the media spun.
“Now, nobody in the world believes that a person will step down from chairman of a political party because there was an amendment made to the budget. That didn’t happen and that wasn’t the reason,” said Reed.
Reed sees more nefarious motives on Kennedy’s part. “I think he [Kennedy] wants to run for governor,” said Reed.
He said that Kennedy’s plan also involves “an effort to try and siphon off money from the Democratic Party and weaken it so he can control it. That’s what I see happening.”
Reed, says that the Party has more serious matters facing it than one man’s wishes and that he wants to face the pressing issues while looking toward the future.
Kennedy, it seems, believes he can appeal to disaffected white voters, as well as progressives who are pro-choice and acceptant of Gay rights.
Many media outlets have down played Kennedy’s desire to reach out to the more liberal base and have focused on the racial aspects of the Kennedy move.
Dr. Reed said, “We are all creatures, to a large extent, of our experience and exposure. What I see is this and I may be a little guilty of it myself…I have taken the position, and I said this yesterday, that the chairman of the Democratic Party ought to be a white male. And I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on that and I’m not sure that will bring any more whites back to the Democratic Party. I’m not sure having a white female or a black person…would matter much, so many whites have left anyway….”
He then said, “Our leader [whoever that may be] has to start conveying to what I call my two white friends Bubba and Cooter and my two black friends called Big Man and June Bug. The whites have to tell Bubba and Cooter that black folks aren’t your enemy. Your enemy is not on Main Street, it’s on Wall Street. You’ve been exploited by the rich and the greedy, not the poor and the needy. So, we’ve got to get more of that.”
Reed says that he is 74 years old and, “I’m winding down, I’m not winding up.” But he believes that he has given his life to the Democratic Party and will continue to do so has long as he has breath. “I’m a retired gentleman but I still come in here everyday and work for the Democratic Party.”
Dr. Reed has been on the front line of the Democratic Party for over a half century, “I’m in politics for one reason: to use government as an instrument to do good.”
There is no way to look into the future and see what lies ahead. But, most agree, that to count Joe Reed down or out is a foolish gamble.
COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases continue to rise
The number of rising hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama is a concerning sign of a possible coming surge of the disease, state health experts said Friday. Alabama hospitals were caring for 888 coronavirus patients Friday, the highest number since Sept 9.
UAB Hospital was caring for around 80 COVID-19 inpatients Friday afternoon, said Dr. Rachael Lee, an infectious disease specialist at UAB, speaking to reporters Friday. UAB Hospital hasn’t had that many coronavirus inpatients since Aug. 18, when the disease was surging statewide.
“We have been dealing with this since March, and I think it’s easy for us to drop our guard,” Lee said.
Alabama added 3,852 new coronavirus cases on Friday, but 1,287 of them were older positive antigen tests, conducted in June through October and submitted to ADPH by a facility in Mobile, according to the department. Still, Alabama’s daily case count has been increasing, concerning health officials already worried that as the weather turns colder and the flu season ramps up, Alabama could see a surge like the state had in July.
Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily cases was 1,247 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept 4. Over the last 14 days, Alabama has added 17,451 new COVID-19 cases.
Friday’s inclusion of those older positive test results throws off the day’s percent positivity, by Thursday the state’s percent of tests that were positive was nearly 16 percent. Public health officials say it should be at or below five percent or cases are going undetected.
The state added 16 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, bringing to total confirmed deaths statewide to 2,859. Over the last two weeks, 206 deaths were reported in the state. Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily deaths on Friday was 15.
Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR by phone Friday called the rising new cases and hospitalizations “worrisome.”
Harris noted the data dump of older confirmed cases in Friday’s data, but said “but nevertheless, I think it’s clear our numbers are going up.”
Harris said it’s not yet clear what’s causing the continued spread, but said it may be due at least in part to larger private gatherings. ADPH staff has mentioned a few outbreaks association with such gatherings, but Harris said it’s hard to know for certain if that’s the major driver in the state’s rising numbers.
“It’s football season and the holidays are coming up and school is back in session,” Harris said. “I think people are just not being as safe as they were.”
Harris noted that on ADPH’s color-coded, risk indicator dashboard, red counties, which denotes counties with rising cases and percent positivity, the 17 red counties on Friday were distributed across the state.
“So there’s not one event, or even a handful of events. It seems like there’s just a lot of things happening in a lot of places,” Harris said.
Alabama’s rising numbers are mirrored in many states. The U.S. reported more than 71,600 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearing the country’s record highs, set in July.
Birmingham approves $1.3 million contract for real-time crime center technology
Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.
The Birmingham City Council approved a five-year, $1.3 million contract with Motorola this week to provide new technology for the police department’s real-time crime center amid unease and public concern over the potential use of facial recognition software within the new systems.
Mayor Randall Woodfin insisted in his remarks made before the council that the new technology is meant to integrate existing hardware and technology inside the real-time crime center. “You’re not buying any additional new equipment,” he said, “You’re buying something to integrate all those systems.”
The software suite includes Motorola Solutions’s CommandCentral Aware, a system that aggregates video, image and other data information into one interface, and BriefCam, a “video synopsis” system that will further integrate and analyze information from Birmingham’s ShotSpotter systems, public cameras and police body cameras.
Briefcam offers facial recognition capabilities, which was the main concern of community members speaking before the council, and the risk that use of the technology could disproportionately affect Black people. Facial recognition technology has a record of racial bias and misidentifies Black people at rates five to 10 times higher than white people.
“Despite assurances that there will not be facial recognition implemented at this phase that does not prevent it from being implemented in the future,” said Joseph Baker, Founder of I Believe in Birmingham and one of the Birmingham residents voicing concern on the proposal. “I believe that this software, if fully implemented, can easily lead to violations of unreasonable searches.”
Another resident who spoke against the resolution was Byron Lagrone, director of engineering at medical software solutions company Abel Healthcare Enterprises. Lagrone pointed to IBM and Amazon as examples of companies that have halted or abandoned facial recognition and object tracking software altogether over racial bias concerns.
“The prevailing attitude, among technical people is this technology is not effective, and it causes high amounts of harm for next to no gain,” Lagrone said.
Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.
“It’s explicit in this contract that facial recognition will not be used,” Woodfin said, “[If] facial recognition wants to be used in the future of this city. It would have to be approved by this body. … The mayor’s office or the police department doesn’t have unilateral power to use facial recognition. That is not part of what our contractual relationship is with Motorola.”
Woodfin also clarified that the total $1.3 million price of the contract will not be paid as a lump sum but spread out over the five-year commitment.
The city council voted 8 to 1 to approve the contract, with District 8 Councilman Steven Hoyt speaking in favor of the use of facial recognition capabilities.
“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to build a house but I’m not going to use the restroom,’” Hoyt said. “If it’s in the house, you’re going to use the restroom. … If it has the capability of facial recognition, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to use it. I’m going to vote for it because I know we’ve got to have every tool we can garner to fight crime, because it’s out of hand.”
Hoyt also suggested a review of the information collected by the new system apparatus.
“I do think, for the public’s sake, we need to have some way we review that and see how it’s being used,” Hoyt said. “We need that to go along with this.”
District 3 Councilwoman Valerie A. Abbott — who said she was the victim of a burglary the day before the vote — echoed the mayor’s insistence that the facial recognition capabilities would not be deployed unless authorized by the city council, reading a letter from Motorola stating “in order to enable facial recognition, Motorola will require an addendum or change order to the contract,” which would have to come before a public meeting of the city council.
“I too would not want facial recognition,” Abbot said, “I’m voting in favor of this because the majority of my constituents are telling me they want more and better policing, capture of criminals, prevention of crime.”
District 5 Councilman Darrell O’Quinn was the lone no vote among the near-unanimous city council, stating that he had “some reservations about how we’re doing this and will vote my conscience.” Later, O’Quinn was quoted in BirminghamWatch, saying his vote reflected his concerns about “taking on a new debt obligation in the midst of a projected $63 million shortfall in revenue.”
Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies
Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C.
Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.
But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump.
“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”
Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”
Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home.
“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat.
“I rest my case.”
You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
New unemployment claims decreased last week
Fewer people joined the unemployment rolls last week compared to the week before.
There were 7,964 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, down from 8,581 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
Of the claims filed between Oct. 11 and Oct. 17, there were 4,032 related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s 51 percent, compared to 36 percent the previous week.