Anniston City Councilman Ben Little has been on the fence about running for office again or simply retiring.
But a recent proposal to deannex City Council Ward 4 is tilting the scales in favor of a run, he says.
“I have other things that I’d like to do, but I cannot leave the city in this condition,” Little said.
This time next year, voters will have a decision to make as well. Anniston and many other Alabama cities will hold municipal elections Aug. 25, 2020. Qualifying for those elections doesn’t close until next summer, but potential rivals to the current council members could emerge as early as late August, when the fundraising period for candidates opens.
Most members of the council have yet to declare their re-election intentions. But it’s clear that, before a single vote is cast, some seats on the council are likely to change.
“For me, with the council, there’s a law of diminishing returns,” said Ward 2 Councilman David Reddick.
Reddick said he plans to run for mayor in 2020. Whether he wins or loses, that would mean someone else in the Ward 2 seat.
In recent years, Reddick has proposed a raft of infrastructure improvements for Ward 2, including sidewalk extensions and an artificial lake for the Randolph Park neighborhood. In recent spending votes, he has often mentioned his belief that more needs to be spent on his ward. But Reddick has also seemed restless in the Ward 2 role. In 2018, he ran unsuccessfully for the Calhoun County Commission, saying he could get more done on that body.
“There’s more to do than just getting grass cut and tearing down houses,” Reddick said in a Tuesday interview.
If elected, he’d be the first black mayor of Anniston, a city that has been majority-black since 2010, according to Census numbers.
That majority would be even larger if mostly white Ward 4 were to secede from the city. That’s exactly what a nonprofit group called Forward 4 All seemed prepared to do when it formed in July. A draft bill, circulated by the group last month, would take the ward out of the city and make it part of neighboring Oxford by act of Legislature, without a vote in either city.
So far, that draft is just a piece of paper. State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, acknowledged last month that had forwarded the issue to legislative staff for a look, but no lawmaker has sponsored the Forward 4 All bill. Oxford officials have said they don’t want to take over the ward.
But the threat of annexation does seem to have brought some consensus to the often-contentious Anniston council. Mayor Jack Draper said the move would be a disaster for the city; Little, often a critic of the mayor, denounced the proposal as racist.
‘If I run...I’ll win’
Now the annexation move is weighing on Little’s decision about a future run. In an interview last week, Little initially seemed ready to tie up loose ends and retire from city politics.
“I’m about tired now,” said Little. “I have no doubt that if I run for City Council, I’ll win.”
A retired soldier, Little is the longest-serving member of the council, and the veteran of numerous council conflicts. In 2012, after losing a re-election bid, he was removed from office a few days before the end of a council term after being found guilty of violating the Council-Manager Act, which prohibits council members from giving orders to city staff. He won re-election in 2016. He’s now awaiting trial on a felony ethics charge for allegedly casting a vote on a public nuisance declaration on a property he owns. A felony conviction would render him ineligible for office.
Little on Tuesday said he could forgo a 2020 run if he can make progress on certain projects, including home repairs for Anniston residents and the creation of a health institute named after past Anniston resident and former surgeon general David Satcher.
“If I can get those things done, I’ve gone as far as I need to go,” he said.
But Little said the Ward 4 situation and the city’s spending on the upcoming City Hall move have him thinking perhaps he should stay — or even run for mayor.
“I am the one who can lead the city to higher heights,” he said.
The council is set to consider a resolution against the Ward 4 deannexation effort on Tuesday. Little said he will also propose a lawsuit to stop the annexation effort, saying the city needs to be “proactive” in fighting the annexation drive.
Draper, who also opposes Ward 4 secession, said last week that he felt a suit would be premature. With no law or official proposed legislation, he said, there’s nothing yet that could be the basis of a suit.
Draper said he’s still undecided about a run in 2020.
“I am thinking seriously about running again, but I haven’t made that decision,” he said.
He said he would like to see some of the city’s biggest projects to completion. City offices will move to the Consolidated Publishing building next week as contractors get ready to tear down City Hall on Gurnee Avenue to make way for a new federal courthouse. The city is working on acquiring the land to extend the Chief Ladiga Trail downtown, Draper said.
Little and Draper aren’t the only council members still mulling what they’ll do next year.
“I’m undecided,” said Councilwoman Millie Harris, who represents Ward 4.
The only council member who’s sure he’ll run as an incumbent is Councilman Jay Jenkins, who had a simple reply when asked if he’s seeking re-election: “Yes.”
He declined further comment.