Birmingham Special Election Draws Crowded Candidate Field in District 6

Sherrel Wheeler Stewart, WBHM

Candidates for the Birmingham City Council District 6 seat speak at a resent forum at Princeton Towers in west Birmingham.

Birmingham voters go to the polls Tuesday to elect council members in three districts. Turnout in the special election is expected to be low, but interest is high in District 6, an area that covers UAB, Titusville, and parts of west Birmingham.

That race has seven candidates — more than twice the number of the other contests.  Residents say, there’s lots of work ahead for whoever wins the seat. Among the main issues, residents say, are eliminating blight and bringing quality retail shops and grocery stores to the area.

Majadi Baruti is the market manager for the Smithfield Fresh Market. The Smithfield-Dynamite Hill Community Land Trust and Tabernacle Baptist Church sponsor the market twice a month on Saturdays on the church lawn, near Legion Field. Baruti says it helps fill a void in west Birmingham.

“This is crucial because we have no food,” Baruti says. “There’s no food in District 6. There is no food in District 9, from what I’ve seen.”

District 6 includes most of UAB and a vibrant area full of restaurants and new apartments. But just down the road on 6th Avenue South toward west Birmingham, the picture is different.

Abandoned houses dot what used to be a community retail corridor back in the day. A popular soul food restaurant in the neighborhood closed a few years ago.

Residents of District 6 say all the development around UAB is great, but they say they want quality grocery stores and restaurants in their neighborhood too.

Dorothy Scott is president of the district’s Woodland Park Neighborhood Association. She’s says it’s all about enhancing the quality of life for residents.

 “We’re getting older,” she says. “We need more amenities close to home. Okay. And we don’t have that.”

Scott says her neighbors want a place where they can get together for meals or a cup of coffee. They also want recreation programs for seniors, similar to the ones in more affluent suburbs.

“All the communities have senior citizens, but most black areas don’t. Homewood got it. Vestavia got it. We don’t have that and we should have that.”

Some change is happening in District 6. DC Blox recently opened a large data center in Titusville, less than a mile from UAB. Loveman Village, a public housing community, is being revamped into modern townhomes called The Villas at Titusville. And private investors are tearing down old cinder block apartments with plans for new housing.

Neighborhood leaders, like John Harris of North Titusville, hope all of that development will draw new homeowners to the area. There’s also a plan to tear down abandoned houses, build new ones and bring in more retail. Sheila Tyson, former District 6 councilwoman, says the area will be hard to recognize in a few years.

“It’s gonna be amazing,” Tyson says. In 2023, you won’t know where you’re walking at when you walk through there. You’re not gonna know the area.”

When Tyson was elected to the Jefferson County Commission in 2018, the council appointed Crystal Smitherman to replace her. There are two years remaining in the term. Smitherman is running to keep the seat, but she faces six challengers.

Tyson says there’s lots of interest because the district is in a good position for growth, especially with its proximity to UAB.

The list of District 6 candidates includes community activists and neighborhood leaders. In addition to Smitherman, there’s Carlos Chaverst Jr., Latonya Millhouse, Onoyemi Williams, Willine Body, Keith Williams and Clarence Muhammad.

In District 7, which includes much of southwest Birmingham, three candidates are running city council. Wardine Alexander, who was appointed to fill Jay Roberson’s unexpired term, faces former Birmingham Fire and Rescue Chief Ray Brooks and Lonnie Malone.

District 1 in northeast Birmingham also has three city council candidates. Clinton Woods, who was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Lashunda Scales, faces Sherman Collins and Haki Jamaal Muhammad.

Three referendums for renewal of ad valorem taxes for Birmingham City Schools also are on the ballot.

Polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday.