Phillip Tutor: At City Hall, and smoking crack
Nov 21, 2013 | 2551 views |  0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, gesturing in the City Council chambers. Photo: The Associated Press
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, gesturing in the City Council chambers. Photo: The Associated Press
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Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart is the antithesis of Rob Ford, the crack-smoking, booze-drinking, oral-sex discussing, foul-mouthed mayor of Toronto.

Aren’t you glad?

Ford is a caricature.

Stewart isn’t.

Ford is a cable-news fixture, like George Zimmerman and Nancy Grace.

Stewart isn’t.

Ford is a Halloween costume, a skit topic on Saturday Night Live and a cover boy of the tabloid papers.

Stewart isn’t.

In other words, Ford is an embarrassment.

And Stewart isn’t.

In truth, this isn’t about Stewart or Ford. It’s about wayward politicians whose escapades, dodgy ideologies and regrettable policies overtake the reputations of the people they represent. If you don’t think Torontonians are tired of seeing Ford’s antics broadcast around the world, you’re not paying attention.

(Two days ago, I sat in my office at The Star and watched CNN televise Ford’s off-tackle sweep through the Toronto City Council chambers, during which he ran over a female council member like a fullback on fourth down. It was good for CNN’s ratings. Reality TV, Canada style.)

Stewart, the elected leader of Calhoun County’s largest and most influential city, is merely the easiest comparison. Say what you will about the politics of Stewart’s colleagues, but sub in virtually any of them — Oxford’s Leon Smith, Jacksonville’s Johnny Smith, Weaver’s Wayne Willis, Hobson City’s Alberta McCrory, etc. — and the comparison is the same.

Ford is a buffoon.

Calhoun County’s mayors are not.

History hurts us, however — as Calhoun Countians and as Alabamians. We’ve had our versions of Rob Ford, and the scars remain.

Anniston, like it or loathe it, seems to breed political embarrassments. Stewart’s predecessor, former Mayor Gene Robinson, is a convenient example. He didn’t share the worst of Ford’s habits, but his four years of Gurnee Avenue reign will go down in Anniston lore as four of the oddest, most regrettable years in city history.

Robinson’s City Council cohorts were no better. Ben Little sued everyone but the governor, tried to turn McClellan over to a tribe of Native Americans, accused someone of trying to intimidate him with a dead squirrel and demagogued his way into everyone’s heart. He cried corruption but uncovered none. He was, and is, a piece of work. David Dawson and John Spain owned their own collections of misfit behavior. Individually, Little, Dawson and Spain were arrested for various actions while in or out of office. Spain and the mayor, who once worked together on a cable-access TV show, displayed their camaraderie in an infamous hallway tussle.

Whether statesmen, politicians or miscreants, those gentlemen damaged the Anniston brand, just as Rob Ford is doing today in Toronto.

Annistonians dumped their embarrassments in 2012. Be glad.

Alabama, the state of George Wallace and everything his legacy entails, isn’t so lucky. Wallace needs no recounting. (Any cable-news mention of Alabama requires video of Birmingham’s dogs, Bull Connor’s face and Wallace’s segregation speech.)

But what of Gov. Guy Hunt, who resigned after being convicted of theft, conspiracy and ethics violations?

And what of Gov. Don Siegelman, imprisoned (rightly or wrongly) on charges of corruption?

And what of the state legislators tried (but not convicted) in a 2010 vote-buying scandal for the state’s gambling industry?

And what of lawmakers such as Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale, Rep. Micky Hammon of Decatur and Rep. Kerry Rich of Albertville, whose ideologies and misguided pieces of legislation have painted modern-day Alabama as a state intolerant of anyone not fitting their preferred racial profiles?

And what of Gov. Robert Bentley, a physician whose foolish decision to refuse federal help to expand Medicaid is keeping as many as 300,000 Alabamians from having health insurance?

None of those is an embarrassment on the Rob Ford scale. No crack smoking or oral-sex talk.

Nevertheless, Alabama’s brand, like that of any state or city, is invaluable. When it’s damaged, it’s like an iPhone dropped on the sidewalk — shattered glass, expensive to repair.

Rob Ford is a boisterous embarrassment across the border; we laugh at him, Canadians wish they could.

In all his buffoonish glory, he’s a reminder that when we elect the wrong people, people whose antics hurt our brand, we all pay the price.

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.
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