2009 State of the City address
Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford's 2009 State of the City address was delivered to the Birmingham City Council on Tuesday January 27, 2009, at the beginning of Langford's 2nd year in office. The address, traditionally delivered to the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham, was repeated for that group the following week.
As with many of his other presentations, Langford played a staff-produced video prior to giving his remarks. The 20-minute video highlighted the city's accomplishments during 2008, including the distribution of low-cost laptop computers to Birmingham City Schools students, construction of the Railroad Park downtown, successful negotiations to keep Trinity Medical Center inside the city limits, and Daniel Corporation's redevelopment of the former HealthSouth corporate campus.
In his address, Langford touted the city's stable revenues and low unemployment in a troubling period for the national economy. He proposed using $100 million in unspent capital approved over the past 13 years to jump-start economic development and capital projects over the coming year. He made sharp comments toward Birmingham's suburbs, saying"I will not defend another decision to do nothing in this city to people who don't even live in this city." and if her were mayor 25 years ago he would have cut off the water that made their development possible. He pledged to seek opportunities for regional cooperation, but only if they were beneficial to Birmingham.
He also directed pointed remarks to the City Council, claiming that he has the power to negate council decisions by refusing to act upon them and calling for an end to public fights. "You got a problem with me? Like a man or a woman, you bring it to me. I got a problem with you, I'm going to bring it to you."
For the Kiwanis Club, the mayor also announced a "virtual community" to be implemented at birminghamal.gov, giving website visitors access to a three-dimensional map of downtown with detailed information about businesses and amenities.
(following a 20-minute video presentation and reiteration of a few points from the video)
"Let me make it clear that 2009 is starting off in the same fashion as 2008. If you remember several years ago Tom Williams and a number of our automobile dealerships moved from Downtown Birmingham out to, I think it's Grant's Mill Road. I'm proud to announce today that a new Cadillac dealership will be coming back to Birmingham. We will be working with Mr Tony Serra and some of his people, I see Quinton is here, some of the people are here. We are going to have a new dealership back in our city. So you see slowly but surely, those dealerships that left are now coming back to the city (applause). And I'll give all of you much more details about that in a little bit, a later date.
Just to reiterate, when we invested the $55 million under our capital investment plan to retain new businesses, particularly the Trinity site, we did that to keep 2,200 jobs in this city. We're proud to announce that with the construction and completion of the entire Daniel project, we're gonna gain, in addition to the 2,200 new jobs, 6,000 more jobs for the city. All that means is that the money we invested, every penny, is gonna pay dividends back for the city.
Now if you've recently driven your car in downtown Birmingham, you know that the paving is well under way. We're gonna use the same unit prices that we received for the downtown paving of the $11.7 million, that same unit price will be used to pay the $5.4 million the streets in each of our communities. Thank God we'll be able to take advantage of those historical low prices for the paving. Now by the way, Councilman Royal, as I was looking over and trying to make proposals for the city, I came across a two thousand, I think it's three proposal, that you did that was called a "Smooth Ride" program. The Bible has made it very clear, there's nothing new under the sun. I don't care what you think you're coming up with, somebody has already thought about it. When we looked at that Smooth Ride program, I used it as a basis for moving to get the streets paved downtown. So I'm gonna stop just a second and ask Councilor Royal if he would join me at the podium. (inaudible response) Well just, uh, do it! (laughter)
As you know, when we first got into office we presented an award to Council President Smitherman for a very creative and innovative program you came up with on the "Second Chance" program in our courts. Now this administration is constantly looking for thinking outside of the box as you choose your projects. When I looked at the Smooth Ride program and adapted it to the downtown paving. In 2003 you proposed it but it wasn't implemented. But today your proposal is being implemented downtown, and I just believe in giving credit to whom credit is due. So you had the foresight to think outside of the box in 2003. Six years later you get your reward for the Thinking Outside of the Box Award. (presents trophy with miniature copy of Rodin's "The Thinker". Councilor Royal expresses surprise and gratitude on behalf of the committee that worked on the Smooth Ride proposal)
Let me add sometimes people don't see what you see at the time that you see it. I could easily stand here as mayor, and that DVD could've said "I, I, I, I, I, I", because after all it is my presentation. But the fact of the matter is that we were asked to move this city forward, but to make some tough decisions, so it's what we have done. I saw a piece of paper in passing that said "There is no "I" in "team". Team is not spelled "T-I..." however you want to finish that, it's spelled "T-E-A-M". So it means collectively we're gonna survive together, or individually we can die. So I thank you for what you've done.
Let's not forget the Davis Cup in March. This Friday, Mr Hoyt, I want all of you all to, 10:00 at Fair Park. A press conference will be held at Fair Park, all of the information that you've asked for on it is in my office. I don't have enough time, you're not gonna give me enough time to go walk through each piece of this today. After the council meeting you will have a copy of minority involvement and everything else as it relates to the groundbreaking. I'm asking the whole council, if you can, you made this happen, on Friday join me in pushing a button out there at Fair Park. A crane is being set up and that huge wall that represented where the automobile races took place, you get to push a button and a big huge ball is gonna take it down. So that groundbreaking will take place, I think it's Friday morning at 10:00. So please, whatever you've got to do. If you're gonna go to the hospital better to do it Thursday or on Saturday. Don't be sick on Friday. You made it happen you need to be there to witness the transformation, the beginnings for Five Points West.
Last but not least we've been able to hold our own virtually due to the projects going on in this city. Now we went back and checked on the unemployment rates with the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, let me give you the levels. Nationally the unemployment rate is right now at 7.2%. Statewide it's 6.7%. The county level is at 5.9%. , and the city level is at 5.7%. These projects are keeping people working and employed. If we continue to move the city forward, given the state of our economy, the effects nationally will be felt here at a very minimum level. We know that from December 2007 to December 2008, for example, the city's sales tax collections were up 32%. Our occupational taxes were up 2%. That isn't gonna hold forever. The economy is taking a downturn, as you know. People are spending less. Automobile sales are down. But thank God, in the midst of a downturn we are now picking up a new automobile franchise here in the city. That says a lot about this city.
So what I want to say to you is this in closing. There's $100-plus in capital money that's been on our books, some of that money since 1996. This money can not be spent for anything other than the projects for which you all got this money. This notion I keep hearing "we must be very careful in spending." Yes, we should. But the money that's on the books should've already been spent. We can take that money and use it as an economic stimulus for the city of Birmingham. You can't spend the money for nothing else. Letting it sit in the bank is only losing buying power. So what we need to do is take that $120 million and do what should've been done a long time ago and go into these neighborhoods and use that money.
I'm tired of hearing the "You must be very careful. Don't spend another dime. Let it sit in the bank and let it wither away." You already lost about twenty- and when I say you, I'm not talking about you personally. You collectively. We've lost about 25% of the buying power of that money that's been sitting in the bank, some of it since 1996. Now all of a sudden what you got that money for, projects are now costing twice what they would have cost had those projects been done then. We're gonna come back within the next two weeks with the remaining $55 million from the domed stadium that we can use to finish paving the streets in downtown and in our communities. There's no reason to stop, not now. We're getting better prices today than you ever would have gotten. If we bid those streets a year ago that we're paving downtown it would have cost you $15 million. $11.7 to $15 million to get it done. But these companies are now trying to keep their people employed. I view what you did in getting the streets paved downtown as an economic stimulus for this community.
No business will come to your city to locate when the streets are so ragged even you don't wanna ride on them. Yesterday I drove down 14th Street from UAB. UAB is the largest employer we've got here. Our paving goes up to Morris Avenue. That leaves us about 8 or 10 block area up to UAB. You've already done Five Points South. We're working on putting the plan together while we've got these low prices. Let's secure our business areas to the point people want to come here. You wouldn't come here and invest $4 or 5 million if you can't drive on the streets to get there.
No more of this nonsense. I have seen so many efforts made to drive a wedge between this mayor and this council. The council, and I saw a very ugly, and I'm gonna say it, just call it like it is. I saw a very ugly editorial about you Madame President in the paper a few days ago. You need to see it, because it was totally distasteful and I consider it to be the lowest class thing I have seen in a long time. It's got you saying "Yes, Mayor. Yes, Mayor. Yes, Mayor" as we're trying to move the city forward. When you read that garbage, you're supposed to now say "No, No, No, No, No." The very same people who are telling you what you shouldn't do in this city, they've brought nothing to the table. Except what you ought not to do. And when I saw that editorial in the paper. This is the same newspaper you gave over $2 million to keep their business in this city. I didn't see any editorials saying you shouldn't have done that. When you did that that was a good thing.
You ought to become as irate as I am because I am sick and tired of people outside of this city telling this city you ought to stay there and die on the vine and don't you dare be creative. (applause) Enough of this If we listen to these folks, the city will be no further along tomorrow than it is yesterday. And let me put it in plain, blunt, simple terms. This ain't racial. It's a fact. So take it. As I'm gonna tell you. There are six black councilors up here and three white. The white districts are in just as bad a shape as the black districts. The black districts, in many cases, are in worse shape than some of your districts because we haven't spent the money in the Western part of the city. That ain't racial; that's a fact. We cannot let these communities, be they black or white, fall apart any more. We're gonna pay just as much attention to Crestline as we are for Pratt City. They deserve to have the same streets as Crestline as Five Points South. This nonsense that we have allowed ourselves to get sucked into. Everything is not black and white, it's called green and white. Spend some of that money to fix this mess no matter where these people live. And I am, after today, I will NOT defend another decision to do nothing in this city to people who don't even live in this city.
You read one letter to the editor after another, "what Birmingham shouldn't do." Birmingham helped build these surrounding communities. You better be glad I wasn't mayor of this city 25 years ago. Because you'd have one big city. There wouldn't be these suburbs. I would've cut off the water. You own it. Instead what did you do? You ran water lines to build other cities and now you're in competition with the same cities you ran your water lines to build. And now they want to pit Birmingham against Hoover, against Vestavia.
Listen, it's all right here between your ears. You don't have to agree with me. But if you don't agree with me then you bring a better alternative to the table. Anybody can say "no". If you don't want to pave the streets my way, then get the streets paved your way. I'll support your way, just like I ask you to support mine. I don't care how we get there, just GET there for cryin' out loud. And enough of this nonsense is enough. To the people who live in Birmingham who criticize this city, "The city shouldn't have spent this." and "The city shouldn't have spent that." Now your job is to make businesses want to come here, so they can have a job. If you bring nothing to the table, SHUT UP. We don't wanna hear it any more. This city has listened to this criticism for so long the fruit is dying on the vine. Well the trees are being replanted today. Get on board or go home, I don't care which one you do.
While we are working together as a team, we're gonna make it work. Now you want to come back to my office and we have a knock-down drag-out to get this so be it. But when we walk out here in this public, there will be no more the mayor and the council public fights out here. It stops now. It has to end now. You got a problem with me like a man or a woman you bring it to me. I got a problem with you I'm gonna bring it to you. But our council meetings are being shown worldwide. The whole world can go on the internet and see everything we say and do. No more embarrassment of this city by its elected officials.
Madame President, as I close. This time next week there are gonna be two big doors behind you. It's gonna be required that for people to come in and behind these councilors. No more meetings where people are just walking around at their discretion as you're trying to conduct the business of the city. There's more activity going on the background you can't hear out here and they can't hear back there. Stop it now. When you come here, you will come here conduct yourselves, be it the public or us. And if ever one of us get out of line, and go to embarrass the city, call us down right there on the spot. No more of this. This is a better city we've been too blessed, we've come too far. It has to stop. There's no better time than to do it right now, and I'm gonna tell you, that after today, when one of us lose our minds, we must stop collectively and put their minds back in their heads. Not after the meeting. If you lose your mind during the meeting we're gonna call you down during the meeting. The Mayor is a guest of this Council. You can tell me not to come here and I can't even come here. But you give me more time to try to explain programs that ought to be explained and I appreciate it.
Now again, the state of the city is fine. We are not impervious to the pain the rest of the world is going to feel and is feeling. We can have our own economic stimulus package. Here, take that $100 million and let's go spend it in the communities. You can't do nothing else with the money. Say they has a downturn tomorrow morning you can't ship one dime of that money to Serra's or anything else. That money will support these projects. Let's do the projects. Today, and for the next two weeks, Public Works will be in a different park every day to cut it, clean it, paint it, manicure it, and upgrade those parks. Some of our parks look like holy hell. It's an embarrassment. Our parks are the hubs, are the centerpieces for our communities. We're going in to have to clean them up to make them look nice, to look like they ought to look.
I need your support to move this city forward. And I'm tired of fighting now. I hope you're tired. Nothing is being gained by us trying to put each other down. We are playing right into the hands of what the media likes. They can't write a story that says Birmingham is doing well when other cities start reporting that their revenue is down. Do you know for a week they had the story that Birmingham was doing well and wouldn't run it? Because if these surrounding cities sneezes Birmingham is supposed to catch cold. This is nonsense. Our green initiative program is drawing all of our municipalities and cities and counties together. The biggest thing ever done - There's lots of regional cooperation taking place, but never again to the detriment of our own city. It won't happen any more. If regional cooperation helps us and helps somebody else, fine. But never again are we gonna give up anything. We're gonna fight to keep jobs in the city, to keep business in the city, to upgrade our schools and our communities and no more apologies.
I thought being elected mayor was going to be a challenge. I had no idea. I can deal with what ought to be done and how we ought to do it. I will no longer deal with pettiness on the parts of any of us. The truth of the matter is, it makes no difference what the council passes, does it? If I don't implement it you've done nothing. It doesn't matter. So doesn't it just make sense we ought to be coming together, working together, to get what you want done? No more wedges. No more "he said, she said, and I heard". Birmingham is the best-kept secret in Alabama and in the South, and we need some more cheerleaders for our city. And there's no better way to cheer this city along, than to pave your streets and rebuild your schools and give your children computers and create jobs and grow your medical center and take a place like the digital hospital left out there vacant for all of this time and you faulted 2,200 jobs in the city, now it's gonna grow to 6,000 more jobs.
We ought to all be celebrating that. Not reading every other day in the paper "he said, she said, and I heard." And I'm not being critical of the paper except to this extent. They can't write if we don't give it to them. If we would just stop this nonsense and work together, all of the things you accomplished in '08, we could double it in '09. Be as tenacious about growing this city. For we, as President Obama said, "we will be judged by what we," what? "BUILD. Not what we [destroy]". And it's high time we get on board. Thank you so much for this time. The city is this good because you made it that way. Now let's push forward. Kill all of the nonsense. And anybody who wants to come up here, and complain about the city. Ask them, "What have YOU done today to make it better?" Anybody can complain. And there's also a passage in scripture about that, isn't it? God hates whiners, criers, and complainers1.. If you want to come sit at our table, bring a dish. If you just came to eat ours, no thank you. (applause)
- "And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp." Numbers 11:1
- DeButts, Jimmy (January 27, 2009) "Langford wants to spend $100M on projects." Birmingham Business Journal
- Spencer, Thomas (January 28, 2009) "Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford gives highlights from past year in state of the city address to the council." Birmingham News
- "Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford delivers a positive message along with pretty strong warnings in State of the City address." (February 2, 2009) Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (February 4, 2009) "Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford unveils new Web site additions during his state of the city address." Birmingham News