Larry Langford

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Larry Langford
Larry P Langford.jpg
30th Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama
In office
November 13, 2007 – October 28, 2009
Preceded by Bernard Kincaid
Succeeded by Carole Smitherman
Personal details
Born (1948-03-17) March 17, 1948 (age 66)
Birmingham, Alabama

Larry Paul Langford (born March 17, 1948)[1] is the former mayor of the city of Birmingham, Alabama.[2][3] He previously served on the Jefferson County, Alabama, Commission, including four years as the first African-American commission president. He also served as mayor of Fairfield, Alabama, and served one term on the Birmingham City Council. Prior to entering politics, Langford was a well-known television personality, having worked for then-local ABC affiliate, WBRC TV as the community's first African-American TV news reporter. In 2010, Langford began serving a 15-year federal felony sentence, the result of a highly publicized public corruption trial in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.[2]

Langford raised money and generated public interest and support for Visionland Theme Park (now known as Alabama Adventure Theme Park), located near Bessemer. The park was built largely by bond issues backed by a consortium of municipalities in the western part of the county, as well as the city of Birmingham and the county government. The park later declared bankruptcy, and was sold to Southland Entertainment Group for just over $5 million at auction.

In 2007, Langford was investigated by the SEC on corruption charges. In 2008, a lawsuit was filed against him for illegally accepting $156,000 in cash and benefits.

On December 1, 2008, Langford, along with investment banker William B. Blount and former state Democratic Chairman Al LaPierre, was arrested by the FBI on a 101-count indictment alleging conspiracy, bribery, fraud, money laundering, and filing false tax returns in connection with a long-running bribery scheme.[4] His public corruption trial ended on October 28, 2009 with convictions on 60 counts, and resulted in his automatic removal from office.[5]

On March 5, 2010, Langford was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a federal judge in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was also fined more than $119,000.[6]

Education[edit]

Langford graduated from A. H. Parker High School before entering the United States Air Force. He graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1972 with a bachelor of Science degree in social and behavioral sciences.[7]

Early career[edit]

Langford was a reporter for WBRC-6, which at the time was the ABC affiliate in Birmingham, during the mid-1970s. He was later a public relations director for a Birmingham Budweiser distributor.

Political career[edit]

Langford, a Democrat, was elected to the county commission in 2002, and elected president despite the fact that he was one of only two Democrats (along with former WBRC television reporter Shelia Smoot) on the five-member commission. Gary White, the Republican who crossed party lines and voted for Langford for president, lost his seat by a landslide in the 2006 election, as voters from his heavily Republican district replaced him with Jim Carns. Republicans campaigned heavily on a "No Democrat, No Dome, No Debt" platform during their primary and that they would not support the election of a Democrat to the County Commission. When Carns took his seat, the three GOP members replaced Langford with Bettye Fine Collins as president. In 2010, the entire commission, including the three Republicans were either voted out of office or decided not to run for another term.

Langford has long been a proponent of a domed stadium for the city, intended to replace the aging Legion Field as a venue for football on the collegiate and professional level. He previously promoted a tax hike to pay for the dome, which was soundly rejected by voters a decade earlier under then-Mayor Richard Arrington, although later analysis of votes showed an overwhelming support for the dome inside city limits. Since taking office as Birmingham mayor, he had vowed that a domed stadium will be built in the city no matter what.

As Fairfield mayor, Langford spoke publicly many times about his plans to run for higher office, particularly Governor of Alabama. After the bankruptcy of Visionland, Langford's political fortunes seemed to wane, and his talk of higher office diminished. After losing the county commission presidency, Langford announced on June 5, 2007, that he would run for mayor of Alabama's largest city.[8]

In what many university statisticians would later call an "improbable calculation",[citation needed] Langford stunned many when he emerged as a top contender in a field of 10 candidates that included incumbent mayor Bernard Kincaid. Preliminary results credited him with 26,277 of 52,111 votes cast in the election, meaning that he avoided a runoff with challenger Patrick Cooper by 170 votes.[9] Cooper then challenged the election in court, saying that Langford was still a resident of Fairfield and did not legally reside within Birmingham's city limits. Cooper later withdrew his case after a judge declared Langford's downtown loft a legal residence.

Langford was formerly listed as a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition,[10][11] an anti-gun group with a stated goal of "making the public safer by getting illegal guns off the streets." The Coalition is co-chaired by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. After his conviction, Langford's membership status in the organization is not clear. As of September 2010, there has been no announcement of his resignation from Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Church and state[edit]

Langford, wearing a burlap sack, speaks to a crowd at Boutwell Auditorium on April 22, 2008

Langford has been both praised and criticized for the degree to which his Christian faith informs his political agenda. He held Bible studies for municipal workers at City Hall each week and was a frequent speaker at public prayer services and church events.

On April 22, 2008, Langford issued a proclamation on city letterhead proclaiming the following Friday to be "It's Time to Pray" in the City of Birmingham. He called upon "all Bishops, Priests, Pastors, Ministers and all of our citizens of various denominations and creeds" to join him in donning burlap sacks and having their heads smeared with ashes during a prayer rally at Boutwell Auditorium. The display, part of his "Plan 10/30" series of anti-crime rallies, was intended to show humility and restore God's favor to a city wracked with violence. Anticipating complaints from defenders of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Langford stated that "the Constitution of the United States calls for a separation of church and state – it never said anything about a separation of church from state.”[12]

Pride Week controversy[edit]

Langford injured relations with the Birmingham LGBT community in May 2008 when he refused to sign a proclamation for the annual Central Alabama Pride Parade, an event that has been held on the city's south side every year since 1989. He refused to allow banners on city property for the event. Langford further stated that it was inappropriate for the government to condone a lifestyle. He was quoted as saying: "My policy is don't ask because it's not my business, and don't put me in the position to make it my business."

"I thought I had stated my position very clearly. If I were to sign the permit to put up banners on city right of ways I would be condoning that which I don't condone," he said. "To give a proclamation is totally under the purview of the mayor."[13]

Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ legal advocacy group, and Birmingham civil rights attorney David Gespass have filed suit on behalf of the Central Alabama Pride group against Larry Langford seeking an order from the courts to prohibit the mayor from discriminating against LGBTQ organizations in administering city services. The organization hopes to use a ruling in their favor to discourage further discriminatory practices in Birmingham and other cities where the legal precedent would apply. A settlement agreement was reached on September 1, 2009.[14] The settlement, reached after a federal judge ruled against the city and mayor in their efforts to have the case dismissed, comes after Lambda Legal and local attorney David Gespass filed the lawsuit in August 2008 in the Northern District of Alabama on behalf of CAP based on Mayor Langford’s actions in refusing to allow city workers to attach Pride banners on city light posts. Members of CAP were allowed, however, to hang the banners on their own after paying the expense of bucket trucks. CAP members alleged that they had been allowed in previous years to hang Gay Pride banners displayed in accordance with the city’s practice of attaching banners for a variety of organizations that have held events in the city. However, in May 2008, the mayor announced that he would neither sign a proclamation nor allow city workers to hang the banners based on his religious beliefs that do not “condone that lifestyle choice.” This lawsuit followed initial unsuccessful efforts to negotiate the passage of an even-handed policy. Liberty Counsel represented the city and the mayor.

Project proposals[edit]

On March 3, 2009, Mayor Langford proposed to the city council that a DVD video be distributed to inner city youth. The video decries "black on black" violence, calling black on black crimes a cultural genocide. The highly controversial DVD, which the local NBC news affiliate referred to as having striking images with racial overtones, depicts images of slavery and the 1960s civil rights movement.

In addition to advocating the construction of a domed football stadium, Langford frequently proposed unique and ambitious projects for Birmingham. To overcome the city's mass transit problems, he suggested spending millions on retro-style trolleys. Though Birmingham is more than 250 miles (400 km) inland from the Gulf of Mexico, Langford proposed that a canal be constructed from the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway so that cruise ships could dock in the city.[15] He has also suggested building a new structure, modeled after The Pentagon, which would house the city jail, police headquarters, fire department headquarters, a police academy, and public works offices.[16][17] Langford told the Birmingham City Council that he intended to file the paperwork, along with the $500,000 fee, necessary for Birmingham to be a contender to host the 2020 Olympics.[18]

Unicorns[edit]

On July 21, 2009, Langford gave the entire Birmingham City Council small ceramic unicorns as a response to Birmingham City Council President Carole Smitherman's comment that agreeing to the finance director's projection of available revenue in 2010 was the equivalent of saying, "We believe in unicorns."[19]

Following the gift, Langford described how the unicorn was used as a uniter during the reign of King James' who brought together England and Scotland. According to Langford, the gift was meant as a gesture of solidarity.

Public corruption charges[edit]

SEC investigation and lawsuit[edit]

In 2007, Langford and two associates were investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for actions which occurred during his tenure as County Commission president involving allegedly illegal transactions which steered County bond business to particular companies in exchange for bribes.[20][21]

On April 30, 2008, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Langford in federal court.[22] The lawsuit alleged Langford accepted more than $156,000 in cash and benefits from Montgomery banker Bill Blount in exchange for county bond business.[22]

Felony conviction and sentencing[edit]

On the morning of December 1, 2008, Larry Langford was arrested by the FBI on a 101 count indictment[23] alleging conspiracy, bribery, fraud, money laundering, and filing false tax returns[24] in connection with a long-running bribery scheme.[25] He was led into the courtoom in leg-irons.[26] Also indicted were lobbyist and former state Democratic Party executive director Al LaPierre, and Montgomery investment banker and bond underwriter, and former state Democratic Party chairman, William B. Blount of Parrish & Co.

While Langford was head of the Jefferson County commission, he engaged in a variable rate auction and bond swaps to raise money to help improve the county's sewer system.[27] Langford was convicted of receiving $235,000 in bribes from Blount, some routed through Al LaPierre, to help influence the bond deals. According to the indictment, William Blount helped Langford receive a $50,000 loan, which was used to purchase jewelry, including a Rolex watch, and designer clothes.[28] Blount's firm earned $7.1 million in fees from the bond deals while LaPierre was paid $219,500 by Blount for his help the scheme.[29] Jefferson County banks made approximately $120 million by encouraging the county to refinance nearly all of its bonds using swaps. The bonds resulted in a $3.2 billion sewer debt, contributing to the Jefferson County commissioners voting to declare bankruptcy on November 10, 2011 in what will be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.[30] The government is currently seeking $7.6 million in forfeiture from the three men.

After being convicted in a trial in federal court in Tuscaloosa, Alabama,[31] Langford is now serving a 15-year federal felony sentence.[2] He is an inmate #27349-001[32] at FCI Ashland, a Federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky.[33] His projected release date is listed as May 1, 2023.[33]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The date is disputed: Thomas Spencer, "Larry Langford trial: Birmingham mayor mum on real age", The Birmingham News, October 18, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c http://www.whnt.com/news/whnt-larry-langford-sentencing,0,7177091.story?track=rss
  3. ^ http://www.birminghamal.gov/birmingham-mayor.aspx
  4. ^ USA vs Larry P Langford, William B Blount, Blount Parrish & Co. Inc, and Albert W Lapierre
  5. ^ "Larry Langford found guilty on all 60 counts". Birmingham News. October 28, 2009. 
  6. ^ Gordon, Robert (March 5, 2010). "Langford sentenced to 15 years". The Birmingham News. 
  7. ^ Westlake-Kenny, Barbara (Fall 1997). "Alumni Spotlight: Larry P. Langford, B.A.". UAB Magazine. 
  8. ^ Wright, Barnett (June 2, 2007). "Langford launches run for mayor". The Birmingham News. 
  9. ^ "Langford elected mayor". The Birmingham News. October 9, 2007. 
  10. ^ Mayors Against Illegal Guns: Coalition Members
  11. ^ Mayors Against Illegal Guns Membership List
  12. ^ Underwood, M. (April 22, 2008) "Leapin' Larry's Prayer Proclamation" Birmingham Weekly
  13. ^ Langford says he will not stop gay pride parade – Breaking News from The Birmingham News – al.com
  14. ^ "Central Alabama Pride, Inc. v. Larry Langford", Lambda Legal.
  15. ^ David Whitford (October 15, 2008) "Birmingham on the Brink" Fortune Magazine
  16. ^ Ott, Tanya (July 21, 2008). "Langford Profile". WBHM. Retrieved December 4, 2008. 
  17. ^ Bryant, Joseph D. (July 8, 2008). "Birmingham mayor details plans for pentagon-shaped municipal center". The Birmingham News. Retrieved December 4, 2008. 
  18. ^ "Langford says Birmingham Olympic bid no joke." Birmingham News
  19. ^ Cherri C. Goodman, "Update: Mayor Larry Langford brings unicorn figurines to Council", All Alabama, July 21, 2009.
  20. ^ Wright, Barnett (December 18, 2007). "SEC wants to force Larry Langford, Bill Blount to testify in Jefferson County bond swap deals". The Birmingham News. 
  21. ^ Blackledge, Brett (February 14, 2008). "In previous elected positions, Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford asked contractors to contribute to charities he controlled". The Birmingham News. 
  22. ^ a b SEC files civil complaint against Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, banker and lobbyist
  23. ^ Copy of indictment, via the Birmingham News
  24. ^ http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2008/12/0006_001.pdf
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ Armageddon in Alabama Proves Parable for Local U.S. Governments
  27. ^ "Alabama mayor arrested on corruption charges". Reuters. December 1, 2008. 
  28. ^ "Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford Faces Bribery Charges (Update2)". Bloomberg. December 1, 2008. 
  29. ^ http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/12/01/america/NA-US-Mayor-Arrest.php
  30. ^ "Alabama's Jefferson County filed for bankruptcy court protection on Wednesday in the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history". Reuters. November 9, 2011. 
  31. ^ http://www.al.com/news/birminghamnews/metro.ssf?/base/news/1250842555162350.xml&coll=2
  32. ^ Inmate Locator, Federal Bureau of Prisons.
  33. ^ a b http://www.cbs42.com/mostpopular/story/Larry-Langford-Begins-Prison-Sentence/nJ7Bm9lvh0avAYxzDoS9gA.cspx

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Bernard Kincaid
Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama
2007–2009
Succeeded by
Carole Smitherman