A governor and the BLACK BELT

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 3, 2002

Future of area could be tied to this election

By Jonathan McElvy / For The Selma Times – Journal

It was Halloween. Most of Alabama, children and adults, spent the day in costumes and candy jars. On that same day, two men traveled the state facing the toughest election of their lives.

Email newsletter signup

U.S. Rep. Bob Riley made stops in Fort Payne, Gadsden, Oxford, Sylacauga, Alexander City, Wetumpka, Prattville and Montgomery. He asked thousands of people for their votes in an attempt to unseat the incumbent.

Gov. Don Siegelman, that incumbent, spent his Halloween in Greene County and Sumter County.

The different approach to campaigning &045;&045; in terms of demographics &045;&045; is staggering. Riley spent Oct. 31 in cities where the population, on average, is 75 percent white. Siegelman spent the same day in cities where the population, on average, is 77 percent minority.

The trend has been the same throughout the entire campaign process. Siegelman has made Alabama’s Black Belt his home away from the Governor’s Mansion. Riley has not stepped foot in Marengo, Perry, Dallas, Wilcox, Lowndes or Greene counties. In fact, the closest Riley came to the Black Belt was his visit to Montgomery on Oct. 31 and a trip to Greenville on Nov. 1.

Black, white or yellow, leaders in Alabama’s Black Belt have concerns about what might happen if Siegelman is not re-elected for another term. Most vocal among those leaders is Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr.

Perkins believes Siegelman has shown a &uot;keen interest&uot; in this area of Alabama, and he’s not shy about his endorsement of the governor for another four years.

Demopolis Mayor Austin Caldwell is a bit more reserved about a vocal endorsement. He also has an understanding of why Riley has not spent much time in the Black Belt.

Despite recent efforts to be more inclusive, Finley, who is black, believes the Republican Party in Alabama still does not appeal to minorities.

Both the Riley and Siegelman camps were contacted for this story. Riley’s campaign did not return numerous phone calls seeking comment. Siegelman did.

Caldwell knows there has been more activity in this area.

Will it continue?

Though Riley could not be reached to comment on his plans for continuing work in the Black Belt, Siegelman said he does have plans to bring Alabama’s &uot;Third World&uot; up to par with other areas of the state.

Siegelman cited healthcare for adults and seniors as one of his concerns during the next four years.

&uot;We’ve also got to expand our efforts for children’s health,&uot; he said.

And while healthcare is a looming issue that both state and federal politicians have highlighted, Siegelman keeps the same pitch on his hope for the Black Belt.

During his first year in office, Siegelman established the Alabama Commerce Commission. That group’s mission was to bring the &uot;economically depressed&uot; areas of Alabama &045;&045; such as the Black Belt &045;&045; to the same level as the suburbs of the state. Siegelman said he would continue to work through the ACC. He also wants to expand his Alabama Works program, which helps provide job training for those in Alabama who are unemployed or under-employed.

Do results matter?

If Siegelman is re-elected, people like Perkins believe Alabama’s Black Belt will continue to climb from its poverty-stricken shell.

But what if Riley is elected? Is there concern that he won’t pay attention to the Black Belt and what Perkins describes as this area’s &uot;plight&uot;?

Brad Moody, another political science professor at AUM, does believe there should be concerns in the Black Belt if Riley is elected.

Moody then phrased a question to himself that may answer the question better than any other statement.

Caldwell said he believes this area will continue its growth no matter what.

Siegelman and Riley, along with Libertarian candidate John Sophocleus, square off in the governor’s election on Tuesday.