'Anybody but Walt' campaign causes controversy in Tuscaloosa mayoral race
Some Tuscaloosa voters found something extra in their mail boxes recently. The brightly colored fliers are from the website anybodybutwalt.com. One side bears the slogan “Walt’s Report Card” with a grade of F minus for the crime rate, and A pluses for raising taxes and city debt. The reverse side of the flier has full color photos of Maddox’s two opponents, Martin Houston and Serena Fortenberry.
The fliers were sent out by Stan Pate, a local real estate developer who has seen some of his projects halted under Maddox's leadership.
Maddox thinks Pate has had too much influence in tomorrow's mayoral election.
“This election’s really not about me and two other candidates," he said. "This election is about me and Stan Pate. A local developer, he is helping the other two campaigns not for good government, but because he wants a mayor and city council that will buy his piece of property and support what he wants instead of what’s good for the people of Tuscaloosa.”
Pate thinks Maddox’s reaction to the “Anybody But Walt” campaign highlights his faults as mayor.
“That statement sounds like a man that’s losing. I mean, I’m not on the ballot for god’s sakes," Pate said. "That sounds like an insecure man, that sounds like a weak man. People don’t care. What they care about is the job that he’s been doing.”
Maddox claims that Pate is funding both his opponents. Houston and Fortenberry deny this.
“I am not running because of Stan Pate," Houston said. "Stan Pate nor any other person in this city has enough money to make me run for mayor. I am running because I love Tuscaloosa and I want to empower the people to be the best they can be.”
Fortenberry echoed Houston’s position.
“My campaign is mostly being funded by individuals who live throughout Tuscaloosa," she said. "My donations, for the most part, are quite small and they come from ordinary, average people who want to see a change in Tuscaloosa’s city government. Of the funds that I have that are from PACs, I do not believe that any of those funds have come from Stan Pate.”
Pate is challenging Maddox to put his money where his mouth is on the subject of who he’s supporting.
“I’ve made it very clear that I’ve given no money to any campaign in this phase," he said. "In fact, the mayor was running around talking about me fumbling money, so I offered up $250,000 for him to put his facts out.”
All three candidates and Pate are calling on Tuscaloosans to focus on policy rather than drama. Houston is especially concerned with how each candidate will handle that topic.
“24.2% of our population is below the poverty line, so I would want to make sure that as the city goes, you raise the water level for all and not just for a certain few,” he said.
Maddox feels his Project Unity is doing just that.
“I’m really excited about Project Unity, which is our efforts to take on several different issues simultaneously," he said. "One is the issue of housing in Tuscaloosa. Two is the issue of poverty, and third is the issue of community relations between the police department and the community that we serve.”
Fortenberry has criticized Maddox’s Elevate Tuscaloosa tax for worsening poverty in the city.
“I would love to rescind the Elevate Tuscaloosa tax because it’s a regressive tax and because it is really sending people in our city who already live a very insecure life because of poverty," she said. "It is delivering to them more insecurity than they already experience.”
Fortenberry first got involved in local politics after a zoning issue in her neighborhood. She feels that Maddox has allowed for the proliferation of student apartments and hotels downtown. She wants to enstate different zoning policies.
“If we had apartment complexes and hotels that meshed seamlessly architecturally with the rest of the city, and that could be viewed as architectural assets to our city, I think that that would be a huge difference,” she said.
Maddox said he’s implementing Framework Tuscaloosa to address concerns like Fortenberry’s.
“As part of the Framework process, I want to make certain that we really limit those mega student apartments," he said. "Not only are we dealing with an overbuilt market, it’s also a strain on our infrastructure and our public safety.”
Houston wants to create a similar master plan if elected.
“We need to make sure that we have a master plan for the city itself in terms of the land use, economic development, and infrastructure planning, and that needs to incorporate both growth and maintenance,” he said.
Maddox, Fortenberry and Houston each have their own vision for the city’s future, the actions of Pate notwithtstanding.