I was talking with a good friend before the 6th Congressional Runoff Debate at Regions Field between Paul DeMarco and Gary Palmer.
I told him Cliff Sims, the publisher of Yellowhammer and one of the panelists, had solicited questions for the debate on the Internet.
I suggested Cliff ask about the lack of economic development and job growth in metropolitan Birmingham.
My friend told me my question wasn’t appropriate since local job growth is not the concern of a Congressman.
I obviously disagreed and was pleased to get a quick response from Sims saying he would add my question to his list.
Here’s what he asked:
“The last couple of years there have been a lot of big economic development projects come to the state. You’ve got Airbus down in South Alabama. We hear about Remington up in Huntsville. There hasn’t been a lot of activity in the 6th District. What specifically could you do as our Congressman to get some of these big economic development projects to locate here in the 6th district”
DeMarco responded about his help in bringing employment training to the State, but Palmer went off in a different direction:
“What we need to do is to get the entire district working together. I’ve gone around and met with Mayor’s all over the district and I’ve told them I’m going to host a quarterly lunch. I’m not going to run the meeting—I’m going to facilitate it. And I’m going to get these guys together working with business leaders, working with each other. And I told them we’re going to find out two things. One, you can work together–we’re not a bunch of independent little municipalities that can’t get along. And you’re going to find out that you like each other. I will be the guy who will bring a Congressional office we’ve never seen before that will be the center of economic leadership.”
Palmer said during the debate if elected he would live in Birmingham and commute to Washington–saying he didn’t want to lose touch with his constituents. DeMarco has indicated all along he would continue to live here.
I have no idea if commuting to Washington is practical. And I have serious doubts whether he can get our Mayors to work together, but if he wants to use the power, prestige, and influence of his office to jump start economic development locally—I’m all for it .
Of course, if Palmer wants to incorporate most of the African-American population of our region including much of Birmingham in his efforts he will have to convince U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell from District 7 and her Mayors to join him. As usual, our government segmentation–usually along racial lines–makes things more difficult.
Let’s face it, DeMarco or Palmer will be one of only 435 representatives in Congress and the chance of either one of them making a significant difference nationally is not great–particularly if you consider that on the major Republican issues like guns, right to life, or taxes, their votes will likely be the same.
So the fact that Palmer has a novel idea to stay involved in our community is quite appealing. I’m sure Republican Representative Eric Canter who was soundly beaten in his primary in Virginia wishes he had paid closer attention to his district.
One thing is clear, however, Palmer understands and has stated–that if we keep acting like a ‘bunch of independent little municipalities who don’t like one another’–Birmingham’s economic future will likely remain limited.
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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising Agency and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).