In my business career, I have overcome many obstacles while fighting to build a successful company. As any business owner knows, entrepreneurship often requires long hours, hard work, and great personal sacrifice in order to achieve success. In 2009, my company was growing, and we were fortunate to be recognized as one of the top 100 construction managers in the country, a status that we would maintain into 2012.
It was in 2012 that I was faced with one of the most difficult situations that I have encountered in my life. Individuals from a group tasked to help minority contractors grow their business in the city of Birmingham visited me at my office to inform me that I would no longer be allowed to freely operate my business in the city if I refused to “pay to play.”
I struggled to comprehend what twisted logic these two individuals used that led them to conclude that they were somehow entitled to profit from my decades of hard work and sacrifice. In that moment, all I could think of was the struggle that it had taken to build my business and of all the times that I had to pick myself up off the mat and continue to fight, and now these individuals that didn’t know what it was like to run a business, meet payroll, and put in the long hours believed that they could bully me into just giving it away as if they were the mafia. “Pay for play” to a business is the same as an employee working long hours and that employee [being] asked to give a percentage of their check, outside of taxes, just to work at the business.
It was in this moment, with the two men sitting across from me in my office, that I had to make a decision that would have a major impact on my business for the next four years. I could choose to allow them to shake me down, or I could refuse their demands and risk facing their wrath and the wrath of those who backed them. I chose to stand on the principles my parents taught me: trust in God and refuse to participate in illegal schemes. I chose to maintain my integrity and not to give in to “pay for play” political games. I feared at the time the threats the two gentlemen made in my office were not empty threats and knew they had the relationships they needed to make sure I paid one way or another.
Soon after this meeting, the city began to delay payments to my company month after month, and it was clear that there was a concerted effort to destroy my company. It was also clear that they were willing to delay the completion of important projects and waste as much taxpayer money as it took.
As a business owner, I took my lumps early; I learned and grew from each experience. I learned at an early age that you prepare for success, work hard, and compete for everything that’s worth realizing. I don’t mind competing and working for everything I get, but I believe that no one should ever again have to endure the things that I did for no other reason than choosing integrity over corruption. In 2012, there was a concerted effort to destroy my company, and I still struggle to understand the reasoning as to why some people can be so focused on seeking to destroy their own brothers and sisters.
After not being paid by the city on several projects and having several contracts unfairly taken away, I admittedly was hurt financially. But, even more so were my business associates, employees, and their families, and everyone who had stuck with me through the ups and downs over the years. Throughout the entire ordeal, from the moment my business came under attack to the moment the judge, jury, and Alabama courts ruled in my favor, confirming I didn’t have to pay to play, I never once regretted my decision to stand up and fight against “pay for play” politics.
I have spoken to countless business owners who have experienced similar situations to the one I publicly endured, and each one of them thanked me for fighting back and bringing awareness to the despicable methods and abuse of power by some individuals with authority within our city. God blessed me with the strength to endure and be victorious in my lawsuit against the city. Many people expected me to ride off into the sunset, but after everything that I had learned about how businesses were being treated and held back, I felt a responsibility to continue to fight to ensure that no business, regardless of race, must endure what I did in Birmingham.
I decided that I love my city too much to stand by and watch the life be choked out of it. “Pay for play” schemes bloat the cost of operating government and affect elected officials’ decisions regarding doing what’s right for the citizens and neighborhoods. So, when people ask me why I am running for mayor, I say it’s because I love my city and know we can do better. I tell them that I’m not running against anyone, but I am running for the people of Birmingham.
Under my administration, I will not only bring an end to pay for play politics, but I will also work to put laws and regulations in place that will ensure transparent government and end the possibility of any one person owning the office of mayor. I will bring servant leadership to city hall. I will accomplish these promises by going to Montgomery in the first legislative session after I am sworn in as mayor, and asking the legislature to institute term limits for the city of Birmingham mayor’s office. No mayor in this city will ever again serve more than two terms in office.
I will not only release the city’s budget, but I will work with the law department to release as much of the actual spending information as possible. In the absence of transparency and accountability, chaos often ensues. As mayor, I would want to be remembered as the mayor that gave the city back to the citizens, and I will be the mayor who implements laws and ordinances that prevent anyone from ever taking it away again. We will change the city forever! Birmingham, change has come!