In Alabama, it’s difficult to imagine that most churches are going to cancel Easter Sunday services this weekend. That, friends, should be a signal of how serious the COVID-19 pandemic is.
So if you’re a little stir crazy, you can’t go to Stir Crazy, a Homewood bar, because it’s closed for the duration. I hope not for forever, though.
If you’re feeling low, you can go to Lowe’s. The home improvement store is open. I have to go there to exchange our home water cooler bottles, but I go at 6 a.m., when it opens and hardly anybody is there.
I’m the errand–runner in our family during this crisis. I’m very careful, because I cannot bring this monster home. Veronica has health challenges that would be exacerbated if she contracts the virus. I’m a hand–sanitation fool. I wear an industrial mask and disposable gloves when I pump gas or use the ATM.
People are doing different things to maintain their sanity and try not to physically harm their spouses and children, who they most likely are seeing far too much of.
This pandemic might have happened regardless of what actions the United States took. But it’s not likely; other countries, including South Korea and Germany, had better leadership and responses. Our president is creating this disaster like he is Donald Trump. I can’t imagine how it could be handled any more poorly, but that’s a foolish bet to make with Trump in office.
I teach my classes from an undisclosed location on UAB’s campus. I need the stable Wi-Fi and, besides, it is physically impossible to work at home when the dogs are going to believe they can help you and will not take “no” for an answer.
I surveyed a few people I know to see how they’re handling the social distancing and the staying at home.
Attorney Johnny Norris, one of the partners in the Davis and Norris, LLP, law firm, has worked at home for a couple weeks now. He meets with his other partner and associates through Zoom meetings.
Norris said lots of law firms are laying off lawyers and staff during this time when the courts are closed. Not his firm. He said that he doesn’t have to take that drastic step for now.
“We’re a consumer rights law firm specializing in class actions and arbitrations,” Norris said. His firm’s 10 lawyers and half-a-dozen staff members are getting their full pay as they all work from home.
Norris and his wife, Missy, live in Hoover. They have a nice pool in the back yard to keep them occupies. Norris’ wife has two bee colonies to manage. And Norris said just for kicks, he and Missy are going to have a Coronavirus Thanksgiving today. He’s going to smoke a turkey, make dressing, and a green bean casserole. Missy may add a squash casserole and deviled eggs.
Leanne Blackmon of Gadsden has been working at home for years. Her online business, Classy Yet Trendy, is a fashion influencer. She said sales of her popular e-books are down, but her site is getting about the same number of clicks as before the pandemic.
“I’m still getting the same number of visitors to my site, because people don’t have anything to do but surf the Internet,” Blackmon said. She’s also adapting to the reality; Blackmon is considering offering a loungewear capsule wardrobe.
While Blackmon works at home anyway, she still is missing out because department stores are closed. She continuously scouts the big stores for current styles with decent prices. She’ll come to Birmingham or go to Atlanta, but right now she’s staying home, like her husband, Danny, a competitive billiards player.
Yes, all sports, including pool, are down. To occupy his time, Danny Blackmon made a billiards ball cleaner and polisher in his home shop.
Leanne Blackmon says from now on, if she and her husband must go out, she’s going to pull out some of her more fashionable bandannas to use as nose and mouth masks.
But for the most part, she said, “We’re just homebodies. We actually get along pretty well, and we always have. That’s a blessing.”
Server and jewelry store owner Rachel Bayerle is counting her blessings, too. A longtime wait staff member at the popular Southside Italian restaurant Giuseppe’s, Bayerle celebrated her 14th year with the restaurant on April 1.
While Bayerle had to close her downtown jewelry store, Charm on Second, for the time being, she’s still serving at Giuseppe’s, which has a pretty strong curbside clientele.
“We’ve had some really gracious people,” Bayerle said. “All of my regulars have shown up, and they’ve left their normal tips, or even bigger.
One generous patron gave Bayerle a $100 tip on a $15 ticket.
Bayerle spends her down time at her Crestwood home with her boyfriend. Both like to put together jigsaw puzzles. “We like the 1,000–piece or more puzzles.” Bayerle also has a sketchbook she works in and her boyfriend has re-landscaped the front yard. “And we’re renters,” Bayerle said.
Bayerle does have some concerns, though. They are the same concerns that many of us have.
“My mom, who’s over 60 (years old), lives in Florida; she thankfully isn’t a smoker any more, but she was for a really long time,” Bayerle said. “I’m not around her, so I don’t know how seriously she’s taking this. Same with my grandmother (who lives in Birmingham). I’ve told her I can’t see her because I deal with the public a bunch.” But if her grandmom needs anything, Bayerle drives it over and puts it on her porch.
And then, not atypical for Alabama: “I’m also concerned about the people who are still not taking this seriously,” Bayerle said. “I know they’re out there because I talk to some of them. I’m worried they’re going to get started back too soon, because a lot of people just want this to go away.”
Most days, even the president doesn’t act like he’s willing to make the difficult decisions; instead, he’s pretty much left the heavy lifting to the individual states, and leadership varies at the state level.
Former Birmingham resident Angela Balfour has moved back to her home state of Connecticut, and she says her state, New York and New Jersey have been coordinating the response to COVID-19.
“People are in serious lockdown here,” Balfour said, adding that most people at grocery stores are in masks. “It’s being taken very, very seriously here.”
Three weeks ago, Balfour was supposed to start substitute teaching. “Talk about incredibly poor timing,” she said. When she was in Birmingham, Balfour was the Education in Newspaper coordinator at The Birmingham News.
Balfour is seriously worried about the president’s decision-making abilities.
“It is frightening to know that every decision made is made based on money and financial interests for him or his family,” Balfour said, noting that Trump is pushing the use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that Trump’s family trusts have a small interest in. Of course, if the drug becomes the panacea, that could change. Or not.
Balfour is right to worry about Trump’s decision-making, though, because in this crisis, he’s been awful.
Kathy Sexton, the associate director of the UAB Tissue Biorepository, has been working full time at home since March 17.
“It’s a little challenging because the Wi-Fi (at home) is not always as consistent as it is in the office,” Sexton said. “Also in the office, I have two screens, where at home I’m working on my laptop.”
Sexton said she has plenty to keep her busy. Her husband, lawyer Steve Sexton, is doing his legal work from his home office as well. Their 19-year-old son, Jonathan, is a first-year student at UAB, now taking online classes.
“It’s one thing to shut everything down for a couple of weeks,” Kathy Sexton said. “But now we’re talking the end of April. At some point, we’re going to have to look at what this is doing for general research and how it affects routine operations.”
Another challenge about working from home is just figuring out how to keep the house running when she’s there full time for UAB. She says she still has home responsibilities: laundry, cooking, cleaning, yardwork.
“I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones,” Sexton said. “UAB is still supporting our employees. I’m fortunate to be in a place(the family home in Glen Iris Park) where we have a big yard and can go outside.”
Jonathan, meanwhile, gets bored and frustrated, but when he does, he hops on his motorcycle and rides around or hits the PlayStation to game remotely with his cousin who lives in Auburn.
Of course, each of the 22,000-plus students at UAB and at all the other universities in Alabama and around the nation have been affected by schedule changes. UAB announced Wednesday that summer classes, too, will be conducted online. There’s no word yet about the fall.
That worries Madelyn Gilbertson, 20, who is at the end of her first year at UAB’s Nursing School.
On March 18, Gilbertson transitioned from in-person classes to online. Her clinicals have been interrupted.
“It’s difficult for me because I like to learn in person,” Gilbertson said. “I find it more effective (to be in person). There’s a lot of things, with nursing, that are hands on. You don’t get the same teaching online as you do in person.”
And classroom teachers aren’t as good online as they are in person, either. I can vouch for that.
To keep from getting bored, Gilbertson works out to “give myself endorphins, and then just to wind down and take our mind off things, my family and I enjoy watching period dramas, like Downton Abbey.
Gilbertson is keeping her chin up, though.
“I don’t have time to be depressed,” she said. “There are still things I have to take care of. The world doesn’t wait for you. You just have to push through.”
So let’s push, people. Let’s push through.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].
Opinion | All politics is local. All of Alabama’s mayors races this year
With it being a presidential election year and an election for one of our United States Senate Seats and all of the interest that goes along with those high-profile contests, it has gone under the radar that most of our cities in the state had elections for mayor and city council last month.
Mayors serve four-year terms and to most Alabamians they are the most important vote they will cast this year.
The job of mayor of a city is a difficult and intricate fulltime, 24-hours-a-day dedication to public service.
They make more decisions that affect the lives of their friends and neighbors than anyone else. The old maxim, “All politics is local,” is epitomized in the role of mayor. Folks, being mayor of a city is where the rubber meets the road.
In looking all over the state, it appears that most Alabamians are content with the jobs their mayor is doing. In almost every contest around the state, the incumbent mayor turned away the challenger usually by a wide margin. Indeed, a good many of the incumbent mayors in the Heart of Dixie had no opposition.
Many of these incumbent mayors were reelected without opposition. Gordon Stone, the mayor of Alabama’s fastest growing community, Pike Road, will be entering his fifth term as mayor. Pretty soon Pike Road will have to start calling themselves a city.
Vestavia’s Mayor, Ashley Curry, won a second term without opposition. This former retired FBI agent has done a yeoman’s job managing this upscale, Jefferson County suburb.
Jasper Mayor, David O’Mary, who escaped opposition, will begin a second term. He has run Jasper like a well-tuned engine. Albertville mayor, Tracy Honea, garnered a third term without opposition. Luverne Mayor Ed Beasley was also unopposed.
In the contested races, most of the matchups were no contest. Two of Alabama’s largest and most prosperous cities, Huntsville and Hoover, had mayoral races. Tommy Battle coasted to an easy 78 to 22 reelection victory in Huntsville. If Kay Ivey opts to not run for reelection in 2022, Battle will be favored to win the governor’s race. However, being Governor of Alabama would be a demotion to being Mayor of Huntsville.
Hoover citizens must approve of Mayor Frank Brocato’s job performance. Brocato trounced Hoover City Council President Gene Smith by a 76 to 24 margin.
Opelika’s popular and effective, longtime mayor, Gary Fuller, turned back his challenger 66 to 34 to win a fifth term.
In Cullman incumbent mayor, Woody Jacobs, won a second term overwhelmingly. Hamilton Mayor Bob Page won a second term. Troy’s 48-year-old mayor, Jason Reeves, won reelection to a third four-year term with 74 percent of the vote. Incumbent Eufaula Mayor Jack Tibbs won an impressive 68 percent victory for reelection over two opponents.
Prattville Mayor Bill Gillespie may have turned in the most impressive showing. He shellacked former City Councilman Dean Argo 70 to 30. His fellow citizens must approve of frugality with their city finances. Wetumpka’s popular and hardworking, longtime mayor, Jerry Willis, turned back his challenger by a 69 to 31 margin. In neighboring Millbrook incumbent mayor, Al Kelley, won reelection 67 to 33. Mayor Kelley has overseen the growth of his city from 6,000 in population to over 20,000. Tallassee reelected Mayor John Hammock to a second term.
Clanton lost their mayor of three decades, Billy Joe Driver, to COVID-19 this year. His successor will be Jeff Mims, who won the election in the Peach City. Mike Oakley won the mayor’s race in Centreville with a 60 percent margin. It is proper and fitting that an Oakley will be Mayor of Centreville.
Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley won a landslide reelection garnering 68 percent of the vote. Incumbent Pell City Mayor Bill Pruitt won reelection by an impressive 73 to 27 margin.Longtime Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon won reelection in the Camellia City. Opp’s first female mayor, Becky Bracke, won a second term with 60 percent of the vote.
There were two mayoral upsets on August 25. Scottsboro’s incumbent mayor was defeated by challenger Jimmy McCamy.In the thriving, growing city of Fairhope challenger Sherry Sullivan trounced incumbent mayor Karin Wilson.
There are runoffs for mayor in several major cities, including Enterprise, Ozark, Selma, Tuskegee, Alexander City and Northport. These cities will elect their mayors on October 6 in runoff elections.
Some of you may be wondering about two of the most populous cities. Tuscaloosa and Dothan have their mayoral races next year in August 2021. Tuscaloosa’s Walt Maddox and Dothan’s Mark Saliba will be tough to beat. All politics is local.
If you have not been counted in the census, you have not got many more shopping days to Christmas.
Opinion | That climate change hoax is killing us
I grew up with hurricanes. For my first 11 years, my parents and I lived on the Texas Gulf Coast, near Beaumont. My father was transferred by the company he worked for, Texas Gulf Sulfur, to deep South Louisiana in 1967. We lived in Houma, in Terrebonne Parish, but Dad worked near Larose, in Lafourche Parish.
Hurricanes were regular events in Southeastern Texas and South Louisiana. Still are, but in much more frequent numbers. And Alabama gets clobbered every so often, most recently yesterday and today. Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, and you can be assured the damage will be extensive, especially from flooding.
Flooding was a big factor in Texas hurricanes too, when I lived there. Hurricane Carla, in 1961, devastated High Island, not far from our home. Flooding was widespread. Carla was a Category 4 storm. But notably, that September, Carla was only the third named storm of the hurricane season.
This year, we’re running out of names. Striking Alabama this week, only a few days after Carla struck Southeastern Texas in 1961, Sally is toward the end of the hurricane alphabet. The National Hurricane Center and World Meteorological Organization are literally running out of names for storms this year.
Earlier this week, and maybe still, there were five named storms in the Atlantic. This is only the second time on record that five named storms are in the Atlantic at the same time. And they’re using up the Alphabet. The first time this happened was 1971, at a time when humans were first becoming aware of climate warming.
Little do we know, that before Sally decided to squat on Alabama, Hurricane Paulette made landfall in Bermuda on early Monday morning. There are so many hurricanes around, we can’t even keep up with them.
They’re like Republican scandals.
Probably more than any other indicator, hurricanes tell the story of climate change, the very real climate change that Donald Trump and many Republicans deny or call a hoax.
Like the COVID-19 Pandemic. Like so many events that Trump and Trump Republicans can’t (or won’t) believe. Like the corruption that permeates the Trump administration. Like the wildfires destroying the far West Coast states.
That’s not climate change, claims Trump. It’s because California won’t sweep the forests. I call BS. Even on California being responsible for sweeping. Most of the forestland in California is federal land. Most of the burning areas are on or near federal trees. Yet, the state of California spends more money on forest management than the federal government, which owns most of the land. That’s the truth. No hoax.
Trump should order secret federal teams of ICE forest sweepers to do their jobs.
The hoax from Republicans and the Trump administration is that crazy antifa hit squads are invading the West Coast to reign terror on the populations there. National security experts continue to assert that white supremacists and nationalists are the most dangerous domestic terror threat. But Trump defends those radicals – “they are very fine people” — because they hold up some mysterious white heritage above all others. If Trump is anything, he’s the whitest Angry White Man ever.
Climate change is real. The coronavirus pandemic exists. White nationalists are the most serious domestic terror threat in this country.
Black lives do matter.
Yet, once again and often, Trump shows the orange-hued emperor has no clothes. As Stormy Daniels has previously said, that is not a good look.
Opinion | The presidential race is underway
Now that the national political party conventions are over and the nominees have been coronated, the battle royale for the White House is in full throttle. The nominees, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, will shatter the age barrier — whoever is elected will be the oldest person ever elected president.
If Trump is re-elected, he will be 75 years old when sworn in. If Biden wins, he will be close to 79 years old. When I was a young man, folks at that age were in the nursing home — if they were alive. By comparison, 60 years ago, when John F. Kennedy was elected, he was 42.
If, by chance, you are worried about their traversing all over the 50 states and keeling over in the process, calm your fears. Trump will campaign in only about 10 to 12 states, and Biden will campaign in probably only two. Why, you might ask? There are only 10 or 12 states that matter in a presidential contest.
Under our Electoral College system, the candidate that gets one more popular vote than the other gets all of that state’s electoral votes.
The country is divided like never before in our history. You either live in a red Republican state, like Alabama, or a blue Democratic state, like California. You might say the hay is in the barn in all but about 10 battleground, so-called “swing states.”
There are 40 states that it really does not matter who the Republican nominee is, one or the other of the two party’s candidates are going to win that state and get all of that state’s electoral votes.
Our national politics has become so partisan and divided with such a vociferous divide that old Biden will carry California by a 60-40 margin, and Trump will carry Alabama by a 60-40 margin. Unfortunately for Trump, Alabama only has nine electoral votes. California has 55.
The election is won or lost in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
It is in these six states that all the campaign money will be spent and where the two aged candidates might campaign. It will all boil down to certain zip codes in these six states. Current polling has Biden ahead of Trump in most of the battleground states.
Trump, for the first three years of his presidency, reigned over a tremendous economic boom. He had a fighting chance at re-election based on one factor: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
All that changed in March when the coronavirus pandemic hit our nation and devastated our economy. All the growth of three years has been devastated. During the same month of March, the aging Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, captured the Democratic nomination from Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist.
Under the Electoral College system, Trump has to carry most of the key battleground states in order to win. Current polling has Biden ahead of Trump in most, if not all the pivotal swing states because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the economy was busting through the roof, Trump could claim credit for the thriving economy. Likewise, the economic recession caused by the coronavirus is not Trump’s fault. However, it happened under his watch. There is a tried and true political maxim: “If you claim credit for the rain, then you gonna get the blame for the drought.”
There is also a cardinal rule in politics: all politics is local. Folks, Biden was born and raised in Pennsylvania — in the blue-collar city of Scranton, to be exact. Even if Trump were to miraculously carry all five of the large, pivotal states, he will have a hard time carrying Pennsylvania.
I know most of you reading this do not like to hear this dour outlook for Trump. But there is hope. First, I am pretty good at predicting and analyzing Alabama political races — not so much when it comes to national politics. In fact, I am usually wrong.
Another golden, proven caveat in politics: they only count the votes of the people who show up to vote. Older voters tend to be Republican. And older voters are the ones that show up to vote.
We will see in six short weeks.
Opinion | The bully-in-chief angling for a landslide — against himself
Donald Trump loves picking on Democratic Party-led cities where protests and unrest are regular or even nightly occurrences. We never hear Trump discuss Democratic-led cities that continue to have some protests but very little protest violence.
Birmingham is one of those cities. Sure, just as the #BlackLivesMatter protests began after the murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers, we had a scary night where looters and destroyers went through downtown, breaking windows and acting the fool.
That didn’t last long. Mayor Randall Woodfin and the city police leadership have done a remarkable job in quelling violent protests. One important step was removing a Confederate memorial from a downtown park in a city that didn’t exist in the Civil War.
That’s not to say Birmingham is not a violent city. It’s one of the most violent where gun violence is concerned. As in any large metropolitan area, there are locations that have the most concentrated violence and are a continual challenge for law enforcement and the residents who live there.
There’s not much mob violence in Birmingham, though. Certainly not like that which exists in Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, Washington. Trump won’t highlight success stories in Democratic Party-led cities, even those in a Republican-controlled state.
I do find it hypocritical that Trump isn’t as tough on states where the COVID-19 spread is the worst. As of early this week, there were nine states that had uncontrolled rates of infection, and Alabama ranked No. 8. All the states ahead of Alabama have higher populations, but a few high-population states, including New York, which at one time was the epicenter for coronavirus outbreak, has a very low infection rate today.
Infection in New York, a Democratic Party-controlled state, is less than 1 percent now, because state leaders did what they needed to do to control the spread.
Alabama, not so much. Indeed, of the nine states with the highest infection rates, seven are led by Republicans — Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, Missouri and Maryland.
California, the most populous state in the nation, and Virginia, are the states in the top 9 that are led by Democrats.
So why isn’t Trump battering those Republican-run states like Texas and Florida and Georgia, high-population states where the virus continues to quickly spread, like he picks on Democrat-run cities that have protesters?
Because Trump is all LAW & ORDER (attacking peaceful protesters) and not HEALTH & SAFETY (devising a plan to deal with COVID).
Trump basically ignores the virus. We’re nearly 200,000 deaths into this pandemic (nearly 2,300 in Alabama), but Trump golfs, and campaigns, and keeps his head in the sand trap. He admitted in a recorded interview with journalist Bob Woodward that he knew the virus was deadly, but still did nothing. Nada. Zilch. In fact, he intentionally downplayed the danger. And Americans, by the thousands, died. (No telling how many he figuratively shot and killed on that corner at Fifth Avenue.)
I will say this, Trump keeps digging that hole in the sand for himself. He’s alienated so many groups of people that about the only “humans” left to vote for him Nov. 3 are the Angry White Men, most whom are racist and petrified of the day, coming soon, that they’ll be the minority race in this nation.
The latest group that was targeted by Trump for his bellicose bullying was the U.S. military — top generals and admirals, the rank-and-file soldiers and sailors, wounded veterans, and our military dead. Suckers and losers, they all are, says Trump, a man who dodged the draft during Vietnam by getting daddy to pay off a doctor to say Donny had bone spurs.
If Trump is trying to lose in a landslide, that’s OK with me. But targeting Black and brown people, women, Native Americans, our military, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants — that’s definitely not a strategy for success.
Because as hard as it is for Trump to believe it, there simply aren’t enough Angry White Men in the nation to save him this time. And all the other angry people, the great majority, are highly motivated to vote against him.
Trump can’t lose soon enough.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]