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Montgomery mayor: Release of recordings part of an extortion scheme

Mayor Steven Reed said the “heavily edited” recordings were made by a community member seeking money.

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed speaking to the press.

The release of a series of “heavily edited” audio recordings allegedly of Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed seeming to dismiss the importance of Black voters and Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, while noting the importance of white business owners and out-of-state investment, is part of an “extortion” attempt, Reed said in a statement Monday evening. 

The statement, which contained Reed’s first comments on the videos released Sunday, also promised that the mayor would meet with media on Tuesday to further the discussion. 

“There is an audio clip that features me speaking privately with a member of the Montgomery community,” Reed says in the statement. “This clip has been heavily edited and features carefully selected sound bites of my voice. The conversation was recorded without my knowledge or consent by this community member almost three years ago.

“The meeting with this community member was prompted by our concerns about civil unrest in the immediate aftermath of the death of George Floyd. During this meeting, it became abundantly clear to me that this individual sought personal financial gain during a time of crisis in our city, state, and country. You have my word that no one in my administration will ever give in to a shakedown or extortion.”

Reed doesn’t name the “community member” but earlier on Monday, Charles Lee, a local Montgomery business owner and community activist went live on Facebook to discuss the recordings and said he was the person speaking with Reed, although he denied making the recording. 

Lee played portions of the full recording, including his side of the conversation, and claimed Reed had invited him to the mayor’s office for a discussion about the ongoing Floyd protests. Lee also claimed that his nonprofit, That’s My Child, had not received support from the city and was critical of Reed for not supporting him and other Black business owners. 

That has been a familiar criticism for Reed – Montgomery’s first Black mayor – since nearly the day he was sworn in. Despite rankings from national organizations that find Montgomery to be one of the nation’s best at supporting Black-owned businesses, Reed has received criticism from several within the city who don’t feel that he’s done enough. 

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The first recording released Sunday certainly won’t help with that perception. In it, Reed allegedly says that while having a predominantly Black city is good, he has to ensure that it’s not at the expense of chasing away white-owned businesses. 

“You got a Black city? That’s great,” Reed purportedly says on the recording. “You can have all Black everything. That’s great. You can have all Black everything but guess what – you won’t have green nothing. If white money thinks that you aren’t looking after their shit, they will take their shit to Prattville, they will take their shit to Pike Road. And you won’t have shit.” 

In the two later recordings released, Reed allegedly makes a dismissive remark about Maxwell-Gunter and he says that his appearances on national television help attract investments from out-of-state business owners. 

Reactions to the recordings on social media websites have been mixed, particularly among Black residents of Montgomery. While many have been critical of the way Reed allegedly made his statements – peppering the comments with a number of cuss words and frank speech – a good percentage also note that Reed’s comments are true. Many people also want more context – particularly regarding the Maxwell-Gunter comments – and are questioning why the recordings, if they were made nearly three years ago, are just being released.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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