Mike Dow

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Mike Dow
106th Mayor of Mobile
In office
1989–2005
Preceded by Arthur R. Outlaw
Succeeded by Samuel L. Jones
Personal details
Born 1947
South Carolina
Political party Independent
Spouse(s) Patsy Busby Dow
Children Michael Shawn Dow
Christopher Steele Dow
Anna Lynn Dow
Alma mater University of South Alabama
Religion born and raised Nazarene, Christian

Michael Craig Dow (born 1947) is an American politician who was the four-term mayor of Mobile, Alabama (1989–2005), and is widely credited in the area, along with Arthur Outlaw, whose 15 year plan he followed, of spurring the redevelopment of downtown Mobile.[1][2] He was mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2010, but declined to run.[3]

Mike Dow was born in South Carolina and was raised as a foster child. He had a troubled childhood. His father left them when he was ten and his mother was plagued with mental illness. As a consequence he became a ward of the state. Later at about the age of fourteen he was taken in by his maternal grandfather, Henry Gainous. His service in Vietnam included a tour in the A Shau Valley (Hamburger Hill). He served as a paratrooper in his first tour of duty and as a door gunner for subsequent tours. In a fourth helicopter crash his pilot and best friend, Johnny Legg, perished. Mr. Dow was following his friend in another helicopter at the time and this precipitated his decision to leave the military. He still keeps a rubbing of Mr. Legg's name from the Vietnam memorial in his office. Upon leaving Vietnam he received a master's degree in accounting from the University of South Alabama. In 1979, he co-founded QMS (Quality Micro Systems) with his brother-in-law, Jim Busby. Dow functioned at one time or another as Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Accounting for the company. Quality Micro Systems, a printer manufacturing company, at one time competed with giants like Hewlett Packard, Canon, Xerox, and Tektronix and was listed in the Fortune 500. Dow is credited with creating the company's European distribution network. After Black Monday the company was forced to downsize and was eventually purchased by Minolta to become Minolta-QMS in 2000. Prior to this Dow left QMS and entered the race for city council District 6.

The Election of 1989[edit]

Arthur R. Outlaw, a Catholic, had been the first directly elected Mayor of Mobile since 1911, when the city switched from a mayor-council government to a city commission government. (The last directly elected mayor before him, Patrick J. Lyons, was also a Catholic). As a Catholic, Outlaw had a natural base in what had been historically a Catholic city, and had been elected in 1985 by a comfortable margin running as a sort of an old statesman candidate, having served terms on the city commission in the 1960s, 70's and 80's. During his term he had pushed with the city's first directly elected council (containing fellow Catholics Reggie Copeland and John Peavy) to pass an historic 15 year plan in 1987, part of which included the construction of a convention center on the Mobile River. During the course of time, opposition to the convention center had mounted and was leading to surface discontent with the Outlaw administration. Outlaw, being Catholic, affiliated with Spring Hill College and active in the Mobile Carnival Association (he was a member of the 1948 MCA court), was seen as being part of the traditional Mobile establishment. During this time, he was also Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party (municipal elections in Alabama are non-partisan, however, and so this never hurt him in what was at the time, still firmly Democratic territory).

During this time, Dow was running for City Council for District 6 in the southwestern portion of the city. During this same time, automotive dealership owner Joe Bullard was pondering his own run for the mayoralty. It was during this time that Lambert Mims was indicted for ethics violations for his actions in a previous term as mayor. Mims was seen as the primary competitor for Arthur Outlaw. Mims discussed running for Mayor with Dow and suggested he would throw his entire weight behind a Dow candidacy because of his desire to see someone defeat Outlaw. It was also rumored by Dow's competitor for District 6 that he left the city council election because polls were not in his favor. All public polls showed the contrary though. At the urging of Bullard and Mims, Dow decided to run for Mayor. His main point of attack against Mayor Outlaw was embracing the concept of old versus new. Dow made this the centerpiece of his campaign, and reached out to white and black voters. Dow was one of the first white politicians in the city to approach black leaders as equals. Dow's campaign included a coalition of African American ministers within Mobile's African American community and he frequently attended mass at various African American churches throughout the city. It is for this reason that Dow enjoyed very strong African American support. He did campaign on the need not to build a convention center. He won the election by a very convincing margin and his election suggested a shift in leadership in Mobile. Dow's victory came on the strength of his support among middle class white voters and African Americans, while Outlaw, who was chair of the state GOP at the time, carried the upper class white vote. It was Outlaw's affiliation with the GOP that forced Dow to choose to be an independent.[citation needed]

Mayoralty[edit]

During his early months in office, it became clear that Dow was on the same mind as Outlaw when it came to issues such as downtown redevelopment. In fact, despite campaigning against the convention center, he began actively supporting the build. Dow began work on what he called "The String of Pearls", a series of projects meant to help spur the redevelopment of downtown. He moved forward with both the strategies outlined in the 15 year plan of Outlaw, and the convention center itself, which in the end would be named for the man who lost his job for proposing it. He also dramatically increased capital spending, as well as the city's sales tax, raising it to 4%, giving Mobile an overall sales tax rate of 9%.

During his first term, Dow worked with county leaders to secure the construction of Mobile Government Plaza, the first governmental structure in the United States to house both city and county government.

In 1993, Bess Rich was elected to the city council in District 6, in the same year that saw Dow winning re-election with more than 65% of the vote. Bess Rich frequently questioned Dow's adgenda of capital spending without a sustainable revenue source, and she was often the lone vote in the 6-1 votes that all supported the Mayor. When the Mobile BayBears team approached the city, Rich opposed the borrowing for construction of the stadium because she believed in allowing the public to vote on non-basic service capital projects. She also opposed the attention Dow gave to capital projects downtown, because of the increased debt load from borrowing it placed on the community with no thought to paying back the debt or obtaining funds to support maintenance of the projects. As a result of Dow's aggressive capital building program, the city was left with little money in its future budgets for basic capital needs. In 2001, Bess Rich would give him the strongest challenge for his office since his initial election in 1989.

Another key feature of the Dow administration were attempts at annexation. The Mobile city limits, with the exception of a few areas, had largely been set with the mass annexation of 1956. At various times, Dow put forth proposals to annex parts of West Mobile and Tillman's Corner, all of these attempts failing. Dow was highly popular in the city, but his popularity dropped immediately upon exiting the city limits. Dow also gained unpopularity with parts of the white backlash community (which was more Evangelical Protestant in nature as opposed to the city's general mainline Protestant, Episcopalian, Catholic middle and upper classes) for his support of expanding gambling in Alabama, which he supported in his belief that legalized gambling would be a boon for Mobile, and the fact that the casinos in Biloxi were drawing a large clientele from Mobile. Another concern of this area was their concern that Dow would increase their taxes as he did in the city. His terms as Mayor saw a general erosion of white support over time (though overtime he picked of most of Outlaw's voters from 1989) while he steadily increased his support amongst black Mobilians. Dow cruised to re-election in 1997, and began to be mentioned as a gubernatorial candidate.

During Dow's third term, downtown redevelopment continued and in 2001 Dow signed a deal with the Retirement Systems of Alabama to construct a skyscraper in downtown Mobile. The RSA Tower now towers over the city at 745 feet, a visible reminder of the administration of Mike Dow. In 2001, Bess Rich, who had limited herself (she believed in term limits) to two terms on the city council, decided to make a bid to become the city's first female Mayor, as well as the first Mayor of the city in the 20th century who was not of southern origin. Rich continued to question the mayor for focusing on massive borrowing without means to pay the debt back. Dow won the election 61-39%, winning every district except Rich's own District 6, where he lost 55-45%. (By comparison, Rich had won that district with 70% of the vote in her re-election bid in 1997). However, 2001 saw the defeat of two key allies of Dow, Charlie Waller and Mabin Hicks, who were replaced by Steve Nodine (a man who used to call himself the unofficial mayor of downtown on Uncle Henry radio broadcasts) and Ben Brooks. Bess Rich's seat was taken by a woman who was sympathetic to her views, Connie Hudson, and together, these three became the anti-Dow bloc on the city council.

The main issues of his fourth term were an annexation of West Mobile which failed, a vote in West Mobile to incorporate it, which also failed, and the construction of the Alabama Cruise Ship Terminal on the waterfront, which added its second ship in August 2008. Dow also began actively courting Thyssen-Krupp, who was looking to build a steel mill and Boeing, that was looking for a site to build their Dreamliner plane. (the site they rejected became the site that Airbus selected for the KC-45 tanker bid). During the course of his fourth term, crime in Mobile continued to drop, and his residual popularity began to rise as people began to see the efforts of his labor bear fruit, as downtown Mobile became a place that people went to for something other than work and Mardi Gras from the beginning of the 2000s onward.[citation needed]

It was also during his fourth term that the proposed "Mardi Gras Park" was approved, in a deal with the Mobile County Commission.

Controversies[edit]

Vietnam Flag[edit]

Mobile Government Plaza contains displays in the atrium in which there are displays of flags. One contains a rostrum of American state flags, one a rostrum of international flags. During Dow's third term, it was found that the flag representing the nation of Vietnam was the flag that had been used by the Saigon government of South Vietnam. Because Dow is a veteran of the Vietnam War, a minor controversy arose concerning whether or not he had made the decision to supplant the flag of united Vietnam with the flag of South Vietnam. The flag was changed to the correct one and it has become a largely forgotten part of his administration.[citation needed]

Changing of the Mobile City Seal[edit]

The Mobile City Seal, which had been in use for decades, contained the six national flags (excluding the Republic of West Florida) that have flown over the city during its history. One of those governments was the Confederate States of America, and the city honored this by placing the Confederate Naval Jack on the seal. This seal was on police cars, marked city vehicles, historical markers, and a battle flag was flown at Government Plaza along with the other national flags. The city's African-American councilmen began pushing for a change in the seal to the First National Flag, which garnered outrage from Confederate heritage groups. The first vote before the council reached no conclusion, with black members voting for the first national, Bess Rich voting for the second national, another councilman voting for the third national and Reggie Copeland and Mabin Hicks voting to keep the seal as it was. After a considerable amount of controversy, a compromise was made, wherein the city dropped the battle flag from the seal, replacing it with the Third National Flag.[citation needed]

George Ewert and Gods and Generals[edit]

During Dow's fourth term, the director of the Museum of Mobile, George Ewert, wrote a scathing review of the movie Gods and Generals castigating it for its pro-Confederate viewpoint. He did this in his official capacity as a city employee. This aroused renewed outrage from Confederate heritage groups, this time led by Saraland veterinarian Ben George, whose veterinary office also serves as an outlet for the Dixie Outfitters product line. After the issue surfaced at several city council meetings, Dow asked Ewert to apologize for his comments as a city employee. Dow requested that public commentary from Mr. Ewart about controversial issues not be made in an official capacity, such that they did not reflect the views of the city or city employees as a whole. Ewert refused. Ewert then tendered his resignation. This was seen as a minor incident and is not considered relevant by many as it had little or no effect on future events. In fact Ben George went on to lose the Republican runoff to real estate broker Chad Fincher.

Cuba[edit]

It was during the Dow administration that Mobile established formal sister city relations with Havana, Cuba. Delegations from the Mobile-La Habana society took part in these trips and the Mayor went on several of them. This brought criticism from those who thought that Mobile shouldn't have been sending delegations to Cuba in light of the embargoes against the communist nation. However, the trips did establish links between officials in Mobile and officials in Havana that will be useful when trade is restored between the United States and Cuba.[4]

Election of 2005[edit]

In early 2005, Dow called a morning news conference in which he announced that he was not going to run for a fifth term. He stayed out of the campaign during the non-partisan first round primary. Three of the candidates ran as Dow supporters and people who would continue the Dow legacy: County Commissioner Samuel L. Jones, City Councilman John Peavy (a Catholic), Bess Rich, the former city council member and community activist, and Republican former State Senator Ann Bedsole, whose bid to become governor of Alabama had ended in the 1994 Republican runoff election against former Governor Fob James because of opposition from pro-life groups who disapproved of her abortion stance. Bedsole had also sponsored a symbolic measure in the legislature calling for the secession of Mobile from Alabama. She also refused to endorse James in the 1994 general election, but he narrowly prevailed. The frontrunners were Jones, vying to become the city's first black mayor while keep issues of race off the table (at this date, the city's website doesn't even mention that he is the first black mayor), and Bedsole, one of the city's leading socialites, who boasted the largest campaign warchest in the race.

In the first election, held on August 17, 2005, Jones nearly won it outright with 46% and Peavy placed second with approximately 37%. Both Ann Bedsole and Bess Rich received roughly 14% of the vote, however, given that three candidates were running on continuing the work of Dow, pro-Dow candidates combined polled 86% of the citywide vote, and the runoff was set between two Dow allies.

In a surprise move, a few days before the election, Dow formally endorsed Sam Jones, and Jones went on to win the election with a 57-43% margin. Jones did not win over as many black voters as Dow had won, but he traded it off with gains in white voters from Dow's endorsement. Dow formally left office the first week of October 2005.

Hurricane Katrina[edit]

Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast two weeks after the non-partisan primary election and two weeks before the non-partisan runoff. Katrina actually determined the course of a city council race as an African-American incumbent used pictures from New Orleans tying the scenes of black victims of the storm to supporters of his opponents. It caused a backlash amongst white voters in the district and led to his defeat. The councilman, Thomas Sullivan, had been an ally of Dow while on the council, he was replaced with William Carroll, a black Catholic contractor who had played football for McGill-Toolen and had served as a staffer for Senator Howell Heflin.

During Katrina, Mobile received hurricane force winds and the worst surge it had seen since the Hurricane of 1916, with areas that hadn't flooded since being built upon flooding. Damage was heavy in the Dog River area, and among the numerous creeks and culverts that cross through the city. It was also responsible for heavy flooding downtown. Dow was at the press conference that Bush held at Mobile Regional Airport in which the lines "heck of a job, Brownie" were uttered. Dow can be recognized in the footage through his short stature, gray hair and mustache. Because it hit at the end of his term, Hurricane Katrina did not have much of an impact on the overall legacy of Dow, as this work went to his successor in the mayor's office, Samuel L. Jones.[citation needed]

Post Mayoral career[edit]

After stepping down from office, Dow once again went to work for his brother-in-law, this time for the Centra-Lite venture. He also became involved with the effort to create the Alabama Motorsports Park on a site located north of Mobile, with Dow playing a major role in the selection of the Mobile County site over a possible site in Baldwin County. Dow currently serves as a member of the board of the track venture that seems to have stalled its plans to build in north Mobile County.

Political Affiliation and Political Future[edit]

Mobile city elections are non-partisan, and Dow himself made it a point to keep party politics out of city government. His political values truly cross party lines. He is the type of politician who does what he feels is best in any given situation despite whether it is a more popular action in the eyes of Republicans or Democrats. Practically speaking, at the end of his term, his coalition consisted of white self-identified Republicans who won on middle and upper class support, and black self-identified Democrats.[citation needed] His opposition consisted of self-identified white Republicans who relied on blue collar "white backlash" support. City elections, because of their non-partisan nature, allowed these coalitions to develop.

Dow has contributed to both Democratic and Republican candidates and has backers who are affiliated with both parties. If he runs for a partisan office, the decision of party will likely be based on an electability calculation. It should be said however, that his association with Mobile and his support of legal gambling would make him subject to Evangelical opposition in a Republican primary and his wife is a known Democrat who ran for a seat as a delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Dow might have a less difficult time running in a Democratic Party primary than as a Republican. He considered running in the gubernatorial election in 2010, but chose not to in order to focus on his business ventures. He is not opposed to running for Governor or Congress in the future if the timing is right.

References[edit]

Preceded by
Arthur R. Outlaw
106th Mayor of Mobile
1989 – 2005
Succeeded by
Samuel L. Jones