former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington


90.3 WBHM Birmingham--With Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford on trial for bribery, there's speculation about who would run for mayor if Langford were convicted. As we reported yesterday, a conviction would lead to a special election. One of the potential names on the ballot is former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington. WBHM's Andrew Yeager looks at the revival of Arrington's political organization and a possible return to the mayor's office.

People are trickling into this storefront in Birmingham's historic forth avenue north business district. Color coded maps of the city ring the walls, interrupted by a print of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. It's the first meeting for the New Jefferson County Citizens Coalition since the recent city runoff elections. The group is led by former Mayor Richard Arrington. At the top of the meeting he acknowledges the slate of candidates the coalition supported didn't do particularly well.

"I don't know whether we misread the idea about people want change in this city or not."

Only two of the city council candidates the coalition endorsed won. It's a far cry from the original incarnation of the group. That old coalition was a prime source of support for Arrington during his 20 years in the mayor's office. He says at its height it was a political machine.

"We had a strong organization and we had a strong following and we could, particularly in the black boxes in Birmingham, the support was very strong. We were getting 75, 85 percent of the vote. I mean we could document that."

Arrington stepped down in 1999 and the coalition folded. This summer, amidst a Birmingham mayor facing a corruption trail and discontent with Jefferson County finances, the new coalition emerged under a banner of change. In the storefront, in fact, a banner across the back declares, "A Time For Change." And that change is..."

"In part, it was generational. We wanted to get young, some younger folk in. And so we have spend much of our, in the last three months, really courting young people who really have promise, talent and leadership ability."

Arrington also talks of displeasure with the current city leadership but doesn't reveal any specific policies or direction for Birmingham the group is advocating. Jay Roberson is a political newcomer who won a seat on the city council. He also won a coalition endorsement. He says he considers Richard Arrington a mentor and longtime family friend. But as far as what the coalition expects of him...

"I'm not sure, really, expectations they have of me. I'm sure there will be calls in support of the things they need to move forward in the city of Birmingham."

Former Jefferson County Commissioner Chriss Doss' time in office overlapped with Arrington's tenure as mayor. Doss says the lack of specifics from the coalition doesn't surprise him. He says at this point it's better for a political challenger to say as little as possible. In this case, someone thinking about the mayor's office following the potential conviction of current mayor Larry Langford. Doss says whether Arrington is returning to the political scene for himself or on behalf of others, he shouldn't be discounted.

"One of his modus operandi is to plan way ahead and to put together comprehensive plans. And I would think he would be doing something like that."

Do those plans include a run for the mayor's office? Arrington admits he's been inconsistent in his public comments and wavers about the decision. He says he's looking for someone else to support, but would be willing to step in and serve as mayor again if elected. While the New Jefferson County Citizens Coalition only formed this summer, the group can point to some success in the Birmingham School Board races. Four of the candidates it endorsed won seats. As Arrington rallies the political faithful, he encourages them to think longer term.

"Next year we got a governor, a congressman, a legislature, a county commissioner, a whole bit. We want to be ready."

So no matter what happens with the Birmingham mayor's office, Richard Arrington and the coalition intend to remain part of the political landscape. Whether voters respond...that's another matter.


~ Andrew Yeager, October 21, 2009