Ralph Bradford, 63, has been active in Anniston politics for a long time — even as a teenager, he was in the public realm.
At 17, he was busy testing local businesses compliance with federal desegregation orders by sitting at the tables of restaurants formerly reserved for white customers. But that was in the mid-’60s, a turbulent time in the racial history of Anniston. Frightened for his safety, his parents sent him away as soon as Bradford graduated high school, he said.
Bradford got a job driving trains the railroad and worked around the country until he was finally transferred back to his home, where he set down roots.
After he came back to Anniston, he got right back into politics and helped abolish the local at-large elections he said were holding minorities back from winning seats on the Anniston City Council and Calhoun County Commission.
Bradford said he decided to run this time because Anniston’s biggest problem is poverty and he doesn’t believe any of the candidates are addressing the issue.
“The young people around this city are poor,” Bradford said. “One of the reasons is low wages.”
The way to correct that is to teach them marketable skills, Bradford said. There are already some resources to help — a truck driving school in Oxford for instance — and if the city needs more, then it needs to get more, Bradford said.
Bradford said the city needs to talk to existing businesses and find out what skills they need in the work force and provide the training for those skills. That could help stem the tide of young people leaving the city to find better jobs, get them off government aid and increase the tax base, Bradford said.
“It would allow them to make a wage to purchase a home,” Bradford said. “When a young couple is able to purchase a home then that young couple becomes a tax payer. The tax pays for the schools. With the money they have left they can shop around town and that contributes to the economy.”
Bradford, who has owned Martin Luther King Child Development Center, also believes the city’s resources have not been distributed fairly in the community and the majority black west side of the city has been neglected.
“I see it every day in my community,” Bradford said. “They left us in poverty now and we went to bad schools.”
He said he would be a strong voice in City Hall to ensure that resources are fairly distributed throughout the entire community.
Pollie Goodman, an assistant pastor at Gateway of Beautiful Ministries, said she has been attending Anniston City Council meetings for seven years after the Lord told her to get more involved in her community.
This year, she said the Lord required more and told her to run for office, so she went to City Hall and qualified to run for mayor.
“There comes a time when you have to stand up for what you believe in,” Goodman said. “My reason is to make a change, to make a difference, to work toward growth in the city of Anniston.”
As Goodman has attended the City Council meetings, she has seen decisions made that she doesn’t feel are in the best interest of the entire community — she cited the approval of the 1-cent sales tax increase as an example.
Through her work with Quality of Life Health Services, a prescription assistance program, she meets many people who are having trouble making ends meet and that increase is just adding to the difficulty.
“You’ve got people trying to decide between buying their groceries and buying their medication,” Goodman said. “There are some people who can do it and there’s no problem, but there are some people who are less fortunate.”
Goodman, 56, has lived in Anniston since she was 9 years old and said this is her home and she’s willing to fight for the good of the city. One of the first things she wants to do is inform the community. She said the city needs an information hub to inform people of meetings and other resources available to them. She believes the council members should appoint ward leaders whose job would be to inform the community.
“Get those ward leaders to contact the community so we all will be working together as a whole community,” Goodman said.
Mike James, 70, first decided to run for mayor because he felt the post needed an experienced businessman to promote economic development. But as he has talked to residents, James has come to believe Anniston has much deeper problems that need addressing.
“We are a divided city,” James said. “On one side of the tracks I’m asked one set of questions and on the other side of the tracks, I’m asked another set of questions.”
On the east side of Anniston, the most-mentioned problem is schools, while residents on the west side are most concerned with crime and jobs, James said, and that illustrates the wide divide between Anniston residents.
“The city has helped to foster that environment whether it be by indirect or direct actions,” James said. “That’s got to be turned around.”
The city needs new leadership that is willing and able to deal with the concerns of all of Anniston residents and is willing to shake things up, he said.
The city has to change its business as usual approach to fixing problems, James said. Local politicians are campaigning about the same issues they were 40 years ago and nothing has changed, he said.
“Instead of proceeding the downtown’s worse than it’s ever been,” James said. “We’ve not replenished our job losses from the military (leaving), now Westinghouse is leaving, budget cuts are looming.”
James worked for years with a discount department store. He traveled the nation developing stores in nearly every state and worked with communities from all walks of life, James said. He has the experience to deal with diverse groups of people, hear their concerns and fix them before they became problems, he said.
He can do the same for Anniston and it’s something he’s motivated to do.
“I care about what’s happening and what’s not happening in Anniston,” James said.
A city can’t be destroyed by outside forces, he said. Look at London, bombed repeatedly during World War II, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, victims of atomic bombs, he said. They have all rebuilt and thrive today. A city is destroyed from within, he said, by division, misunderstanding and anger; all things that are festering in Anniston today.
Anniston needs to widen its tax base and stop overspending its budget, James said. It needs to get its poor out of the housing projects which have become a haven for crime and get them into housing where they can raise their families without fear. And the city needs to improve its school system.
James said he would accomplish all those things by taking out a $25 million Commercial Development Bond, and invest it in infrastructure, such as road and sewer work at McClellan, that would attract business.
Brant Locklier, 56, moved to Anniston in 2008 to be closer to his daughter at the University of Alabama. He’d visited friends in the area and was impressed with the natural beauty surrounding the city and by the people.
“They’re the nicest people I think we’ve ever been around in our traveling,” Locklier said.
Locklier works at Union Foundry in west Anniston and his wife taught at Tenth Street Elementary and he began to see the needs in the city. With his background — Locklier worked 20 years turning troubled companies around in both the United States and China — he thought he could help.
His first priority would be to generate revenue in the city by promoting more events to attract people to the city and by recruiting businesses. Once that is accomplished the city can start to invest those increased revenues into things like education, clean up, safety and the rest will fall into place. But he sees the job as a team effort.
“My job as mayor, I think, would be to help all the great people in the city of Anniston that have all these great plans and are very skilled in their areas of expertise, bring them together in teams in order to help improve our city,” Locklier said.
Locklier believes his education in business administration and accounting along with his experience in marketing, improving businesses and his service on a U. S. Senate Committee for China Relations would be the perfect fit for the position of mayor of Anniston.
John Norton believes Anniston is enjoying the most exciting time and opportunity it has ever experienced during his lifetime.
The looming completion of Veterans Memorial Parkway and the end of the chemical weapons cleanup are creating extraordinary possibilities for the city, Norton said. Nothing changes overnight, but with the right leadership, the city can make substantial progress, he said — but right now there’s a void in leadership.
“I have to say that Mayor Robinson’s heart is absolutely in the right place,” Norton said. “I just don’t think he’s perceived to be able to lead this city to substantial progress as well as other people might.”
Norton, 66, has been in Anniston since he was hired to teach at Jacksonville State University in 1970.
He has been involved with numerous boards and is a former councilman. He said his first job as mayor would be to bring people together.
“Elected officials will respond to the voting population and vocal population whether they vote or not if they understand the citizens are going to demand improvement,” Norton said. “In the year that I have been campaigning for this job, the word that has come out of the mouths of literally hundreds and hundreds of people consistently is, ‘John, it’s embarrassing.’”
Norton said he would lay the foundation to improve the city and to improve the city’s public image.
“I care, but probably the thing that is more important than I care is that I have the professional skills and the political skills and the political experience to make a difference,” Norton said.
Roosevelt Parker couldn’t be reached for comment, but according to the answers he provided to the 2012 Candidate Forums, he is first interested in creating a five- to 10-year strategic plan for the city. He would enlist input from all the residents and staff to create the plan and involve them in the solution.
“The citizens will know it’s being done because they will be involved in getting it done,” Parker wrote.
He would work with existing economic development groups to attract business to the community and create jobs. He would also work with the other councilmen.
“That is the only way that I know that can bring the city back together,” he wrote.
Parker is a former member of the Anniston Board of Education, served on the Anniston Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and Chamber of Commerce Education Committee. He also served on the Anniston Bi-racial Committee and is a past commander of the VFW Post 4638.
Curtis Ray, a lifelong Anniston resident, said Anniston is in a shambles.
“I decided to run simply because I’ve had people come up to me, white and black, and tell me they’re ashamed of their city,” Ray said.
Ray, 62, doesn’t think it would take much to correct — the city just needs to unite.
“We are divided as a city and we need to have somebody there who’s willing to pull the city together because the city is really crippled,” Ray said.
The city needs to look out for all its members black and white, rich and poor, healthy and crippled, he said, and he is the right person to do that, Ray said.
Ray has coached youth teams for years with both black and white children and he would pick up crippled children to play as well. He treated all of the children on the team fairly, he said.
“Anybody can tell you that ever played any baseball in Bennie Ray Park,” Ray said. “I treated them fair and just, wasn’t no discrimination between them and the blacks.”
Ray said to ensure fair treatment, everyone from municipal government to city staff has to be on the same road and they all have to pull together for a common goal.
“That’s the only way you can do it,” Ray said. “What we need now is togetherness.”
Ray said he has chaired the advisory board created by the Monsanto consent decree for eight years and has had to deal with a variety of people in that capacity.
Mayor Gene Robinson, 61, has had a long interest in Anniston politics.
He ran an unsuccessful campaign for mayor in 2004, before winning the office in 2008. Four years later, despite his self-proclaimed status as the most sued mayor in Anniston’s history and the verbal sparring he’s been a part of during the City Council meetings, Robinson’s hoping to stay in what he calls “the best job in the county.”
Robinson has lived in Calhoun County since he was four years old. One of six children, he’s the only one who hasn’t moved out of the area.
“I went off in the Navy, went around America in the Navy and when I came back, home really meant something,” Robinson said.
So, he bought his family’s business, the Western Auto Store, which he moved about 10 years ago to its current location on Noble Street, and settled down.
Robinson has worked to build networks for the city, he said. He reinstituted meetings between area mayors. He attends meetings with the Board of Education and the McClellan Development Authority and the Calhoun County Economic Development Council. The cooperation with other area agencies is important to promote growth, Robinson said.
“The working together, the building of networks, I think it’s important for the development of your community,” Robinson said.
The accomplishment he is most proud of is taking shape across the street from Zinn Park — the Justin Sollohub Justice Center. The jail and police department were well past their prime and needed to be replaced, Robinson said, and the new municipal jail, courthouse and police department are one step toward redeveloping downtown Anniston.
But Robinson believes he still has work to do; so, he’s running for re-election.
He wants to fine-tune the five-year capital improvement plan, help develop a 30-year comprehensive strategic plan and invest the one-cent sales tax he was instrumental in passing in Anniston.
George Salmon, 63, is a proud fourth-generation Annistonian.
“This is home,” Salmon said. “I just absolutely love this city.”
But he’s been increasingly disappointed with municipal leadership and this year, decided it was time for him to step up instead of complaining.
“There’s no confidence in City Hall and I just feel like I might be the right man at the right time to try to get in there and restore that faith,” Salmon said.
A former radio announcer at WVOK, Salmon was unable to run for office without taking a leave of absence. He was, however, involved in boards and governmental function including the Chamber of Commerce, the Fort McClellan Development Commission, the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board and the Endowment Oversight Board for the Museum of Natural History.
“The most important thing is to provide a leadership model that would allow the council to work together in a positive manner and to have spirited but cordial discussions of course on things, but in the end make decisions in the best interest of the city,” Salmon said.
He believes the downward slide of the city is tied to decisions made by its elected officials. They have been making shortsighted decisions to solve a short-term issue without regard to long-term consequences.
“We would have to work in concert with the Alabama Development Office,” Salmon said. “Nothing happens in Alabama without the ADO so we have to have a good relationship there.”
He would create relationships with local universities to create a plan for the city, market the city to prospective business and educate the work force to fill the jobs they would bring, Salmon said.
“I have the experience the education and the dedication to be the mayor,” Salmon said. “Things can happen when you have good people working together and that’s what I’ve always been able to do.”
When Vaughn Stewart went away to college at the University of Alabama in 1974, Anniston was known as a progressive, vibrant city.
“(Professors) would stop me and say ‘I hear you’re from Anniston. Tell me about Anniston,’” Stewart said. “Anniston had a certain mystique. We were an All-America city. The Museum of Natural History had just opened. The Shakespeare festival was just founded. A lot of good things were going on.”
But today, Stewart believes the city has reached a crisis point. He has been working for 29 years on the YMCA board, the Regional Medical Center board and the Chamber of Commerce. But he felt the need to do more.
“I’ve been involved mainly on the sidelines, but I’ve had a tugging, basically, that said, ‘You need to get in the game,’” Stewart said. “Anniston needs leaders if we’re going to make this happen and not go by the wayside of dead cities.”
The way to start improving Anniston is to raise expectations, Stewart said. The residents have to expect more from their leaders and not accept less. But, he said, the residents also have to come together for a common goals for the city. The ones he would suggest are strong schools, steady jobs and safe streets.
“You begin all that by planning,” Stewart said. “Vibrant cities plan and they plan together.”
Not having a plan provides the opportunity for administrators to get lost in squabbles over small projects because there is no big picture for them to consult, Stewart said.
He would enlist the help of professionals to coordinate a citywide planning exercise and that by itself will help unite the city. It would require city administrators to reach out into the community through civic groups, churches and community groups and give residents an opportunity to create a picture of Anniston that they want to see, Stewart said.
Anniston’s 130th birthday is next year, the perfect time to begin the project, he added.
“I have a passion for Anniston,” Stewart said. “But also more than just a passion, I’ve got a plan, a plan that can carry us to the next level.”
Ann Welch, owner of Nunnally’s Custom Framing, adopted Anniston as her hometown 34 years ago and has never looked back.
“Anniston has been a great place to raise children,” Welch said. “I like the people. I like the location.”
When her children were young and she managed an apartment complex, she also volunteered with the schools and with the Chamber of Commerce. When she bought Nunnally’s, she began working with downtown development.
But in dealings with City Hall especially over the last 14 years, Welch said she has realized that the city needs to change the way it makes decisions.
“It’s extremely hard to get innovative ideas or any ideas accepted at City Hall,” Welch said. “It’s a very closed door policy and I believe citizens need to be included in creating a vision for Anniston and that vision needs to come into play when decisions are made.”
She would ensure that input by finding out what is important to the residents and use that to create a vision for the city, Welch said. But beyond a vision for the city, the city needs to have a plan to bring that vision to fruition. The city leadership has been distracted by issues that have arisen and it needs to start acting proactively, she said. The city must identify its assets and challenges and create a master plan for the entire city.
“McClellan already has a master plan. The downtown has one that was done in the early ‘90s and needs to be revised,” Welch said.
She thinks a single plan has to take in plans for all the areas of the city, though. But before that, the processes and procedures at City Hall have to be changed and more people have to be included in the planning process.
“I see where we have gone wrong and stifled development,” Welch said. “I just want Anniston to move forward. I recognize its tremendous potential.”
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.