On Tuesday, October 8, Birmingham votes in the runoff elections for seats on the Birmingham Board of Education for Districts 1, 4 and 6, as well as Birmingham City Council seats in Districts 2 and 9.
A runoff election occurs when one candidate fails to receive 50 percent of the votes, plus one to break the tie. (E.g., if 1,000 votes are cast, the winning candidate must receive 501 votes, not necessarily 51% of the votes, which would be 510 in this example.) Because multiple candidates were initially running for the contested seats, no single candidate garnered 50 percent of the votes, thus a runoff between the two candidates with the most votes from the August 27 general election is necessary.
In District 2, Birmingham City Council incumbent Kim Rafferty will run off against Rolanda Hollis. While Rafferty led the race with 776 votes, Hollis followed closely with 745. Rafferty has represented District 2 for one term. Hollis is a local real estate agent who is making her second attempt at a city council seat, having run for the District 2 seat in the 2009 election. District 2 includes neighborhoods such as East Lake, Crestwood, Eastwood, Crestline, Gate City, Wahouma and Roebuck, where Rafferty’s family has lived for five generations.
In District 9, incumbent Roderick Royal did not seek re-election, leaving his Birmingham City Council seat open for newcomer candidates. Out of the six candidates who ran in the initial election, Marcus Lundy and Leroy Bandy garnered the most votes, 1146 to 962 respectively. Lundy works for the Birmingham Business Alliance as the Vice President of Education and Workforce Development. Bandy was the Birmingham City Council District 9 representative from 1997 to 2001, but lost his seat to Royal in the 2001 election. Bandy also faced Royal in a runoff in 2009. District 9 includes neighborhoods such as North Birmingham, Pratt, Smithfield, Thomas, Ensley and Wylam.
After more than a year of controversy regarding five Birmingham Board of Education (BOE) members’ attempts to oust Superintendent Craig Witherspoon in closed-door meetings and with the threat of losing accreditation, candidates seeking seats on the BOE are under a high level of scrutiny. Out of the five BOE members most embroiled in last year’s school board controversy, three were voted out and two resigned, making room for newcomers.
Birmingham residents like Norwood’s Mary Jean LaMay, who will vote in the District 4 BOE runoff, agree that Birmingham City Schools need improvement.
“A strong school system is needed to bring economic development to our neighborhoods. It’s important to have a school board that is willing to listen to the parents and each other, then work together to bring better schools to Birmingham,” said LaMay.
“This is an incredibly important election for Birmingham City Schools (BCS),” said Louann Jacobs, associate professor of education at Birmingham-Southern College. “Parents and community members are making a commitment to understanding that a vibrant and forward-moving Birmingham is integrally tied to education.”
To those who do not plan to vote because they do not have children in BCS, Jacobs adds, “Education is everyone’s business. Even if you don’t have children in school, those kids are future of the community. Neighborhoods become revitalized by improving schools.”
In addition to the threat of accreditation loss and other looming BOE issues, Jacobs argues some of the biggest issues facing BCS are the need for professional development so BCS can attract the best and brightest teachers, and equitable distribution of education funding, especially for things like library books, so kids can have access to the best educational materials.
Incumbent Tyrone Belcher of District 1, one of the five ousters, lost his seat when he received only 24 percent of the vote. Sherman Collins Jr. and Dr. Douglas Ragland will face each other in the runoff election for Belcher’s seat.
Collins, who received 30 percent of the vote in the general election, is a businessman who owns NewComers Realty and Scollin and Associates, an insurance agency. Ragland, who followed with 27 percent of the vote, is the former Superintendent of Midfield City Schools. District 1 includes schools such as Huffman Middle and High Schools, Sun Valley Elementary School and W. J. Christian School.
In District 4, Gwen Sykes and Daagye Hendricks will run for the seat formerly occupied by Edward Maddox, who conducted efforts to oust Witherspoon. Maddox was forced to resign in October 2012 after he was arrested for corruption. Carol Clarke was appointed to serve the remainder of Maddox’s term, though she did not seek election when the term expired.
Hendricks and Sykes were nearly tied with votes — 1,235 to 1,185 respectively. Sykes has held a variety of elected positions, including president of the Birmingham Education Association and Birmingham City Council District 4 representative, but she has been a figure of controversy for leading an illegal teachers’ strike in 1999, authorizing a $9,000 luncheon for Birmingham City Schools students with Council money in 2003 and protesting her transfer to Green Acres Middle School by failing to report to work as assistant principal in 2004.
Hendricks has a fifth grader in Birmingham City Schools and has previously worked in her family business, Wee Care Academy, an early childhood education facility. District 4 includes schools such as Hudson K-8 School, Norwood Elementary School and Woodlawn High School.
Three-term BOE District 6 representative Willie James Maye Jr. did not seek re-election, allowing runoff candidates Cheri Gardner and Gwendolyn Bell a chance to win the seat. In the general election, Gardner led with 1,231 votes and Bell followed with 898. Gardner is currently a funeral director at West End’s Smith and Gaston’s Funeral Services. Bell was the principal of the recently closed private New Hope Christian School. This is Bell’s second attempt at the District 6 seat, having previously run in 2009, which also resulted in a runoff election. District 6 includes schools such as Washington K-8 School, Jackson Elementary School and Center Street Middle School.
With the rundown results calculated, the votes show it was a close race in District 2. Incumbent Councilwoman Kim Rafferty edged out competitor Rolanda Hollis 709 to 639. In District 9, Marcus Lundy held the lead, beating opponent Leroy Bandy 1,525 to 637.
The three winning candidates for seats on the Birmingham BOE for Districts 1, 4 and 6 won with well over 50 percent of the votes. Belcher’s seat in District 1 will now be occupied by Sherman Collins Jr., who received 544 votes compared to the 322 votes Douglass Ragland received. Newcomer Daagye Hendricks was the clear winner in District 4, garnering 74 percent of the votes for a total of 730, as opposed to Gwen Sykes’ 259 votes. In District 6, Cheri Gardner came out on top with 600 votes, trumping the 322 votes received by Gwendolyn Bell.