In 2007, Larry Langford successfully campaigned for mayor behind the slogan “Let’s Do Something!” Now, nearly a decade later, the Birmingham mayor’s office has repurposed the slogan in a bid to secure Langford a presidential pardon before President Barack Obama’s term ends January 20.
“Let’s Do Something for Larry Langford,” urges a Change.org petition started by Mayor William Bell’s Office of Public Information. “Mayor William Bell has asked that we as a community join together to ask for Larry Langford be granted a pardon by President Obama,” the petition states. “We need your help.”
Langford, 68, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison in 2010 after being convicted the previous year of 60 counts of accepting bribes while serving as president of the Jefferson County Commission from 2002 to 2006. According to the ruling, Langford accepted over $100,000 bribes in exchange for $7.1 million of the county’s bond business to investment banker Bill Blount, a former chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.
During his subsequent incarceration at FCI Ashland, a federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky, Langford has maintained that he is innocent. His health, meanwhile, has reportedly deteriorated during his imprisonment. In 2013, he told The Birmingham News that he was “dying,” and that his request for compassionate early release had been rejected. In 2015, he was moved from prison to an outside hospital after contracting pneumonia; soon afterward, his family stated that he was facing “a number of other ailments,” including a “recently identified malignancy.” More specific details of Langford’s health have not been made public.
Bell had unsuccessfully run against Langford for mayor in 2007 (his slogan: “For the Good of the City”), but ran for the office again in 2009 after Langford’s conviction, securing both Langford’s endorsement and a victory.
Last year, reports surfaced that Bell had personally traveled to the White House to deliver the request for Langford’s pardon. (He also reportedly requested the release of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, who is at the end of his own six-and-a-half-year prison sentence following a 2007 felony corruption conviction.) April Odom, the director of communications for the mayor’s office, said that Bell’s trip to Washington D.C. was paid for by the city of Birmingham, but that advocating for the pardons “would not have been his only purpose to be there.”
The mayor’s office started the “Let’s Do Something for Larry Langford” petition in mid-December. It has also appeared as a “sponsored” post on the City of Birmingham Mayor’s Office Facebook page, which indicates that the page’s owner paid to make the post visible to a wider audience of Facebook users than usual. Odom said that $50 of the mayor’s office’s budget went toward sponsoring the Facebook post.
As of January 3, the petition had amassed 366 supporters, with a stated goal of 500. “Good man,” wrote Felicia Bledsoe in a comment attached to her signature. “Half of what’s making Birmingham grow were his ideals. Let this man who is ill b [sic] home with his family.”
Other commenters, such as Davina Smith, argued that the crimes for which Langford was convicted did not warrant the length of his sentence. Langford “has served enough time, for something that’s done everyday, and especially this time a year [sic], receiving gifts,” Smith wrote.
“He should never have received this type of punishment,” wrote Dazerine Goston. “Please Mr. President make it better for him.”
The president’s constitutional power to grant clemency is often exercised in the final days of a term. On December 19, President Obama set a record for the most commutations and pardons issued in a single day — 153 commutations and 78 pardons — with most of those individuals having been sentenced as part of the War on Drugs.
While the petition on Langford’s behalf says it seeks a presidential pardon, it more accurately seeks a commutation, or a shortening of an ongoing sentence, based on the definitions outlined by the U.S. Department of Justice’s website. Unlike pardons, which are given after the completion of a sentence, commutations do not legally vacate convictions or restore civil rights to convicted felons. Neither act of clemency imply innocence.
“We are thankful for Mayor Bell’s efforts and all support for Uncle’s compassionate release and/or pardon due to his age and condition,” said LeNa’ Powe, Langford’s niece, speaking on behalf of Langford’s family. Neither Langford or his wife Melva were available for comment.