January 23, 2001
The following interview with Mayor Mike Dow of Mobile took place on December 14. The first part of the interview ran in the last issue, in which Mayor Dow talked about the State of the City and the effect declines in sales tax have had on the City.
Harbinger: Envision Mobile-Baldwin has chosen "land urbanization per capita" as a progress indicator for the environment. According to its report earlier this year, land urbanization is increasing in the last 25 years and more green space is being lost, even after taking into account the size of the population growth. The new library in west Mobile that is being built will destroy green space, instead of following Envision Mobile-Baldwin recommendation of re-using existing structures. Does your office take into consideration this and other recommendations of Envision Mobile-Baldwin in planning projects?
Dow: First of all, the City is a big part of Envision Mobile-Baldwin. Land reuse was not pointed directly at our library; it was a general statement. We did look at one shopping center, but it did not have the square footage and the kinds of space that a library needs. It would have taken large sums of money to remodel, and it still would not have been satisfactory, either size-wise or function-wise for a library. We feel like we have been sticking our libraries in shopping centers too long, and not building structures that are well suited and strong enough to be a libraries for the future. That was the feeling of all who were involved in that process. I strongly feel that the Cottage Hill Park would have been a perfect place for it. You already have running trails out there and recreation for kids. Itís a great place for families -- the kids could be in the library doing homework while mom and dad are walking the trails. I think it would have some synergy there, but it was determined that it was not the case. We have to go out and spend money to buy land, and it took about an extra year to get the project to bear. But I think we are going to be proud of our library and proud of its location. I think we have made a good decision of not, in that particular case, trying to stick that library in a vacant building just for the sake of convenience. That building has a company in it now. I think as we grow, we will find those buildings are going to be reused and we are not going to have a lot of empty shopping centers. Most of our shopping centers are being upgraded right now instead of being abandoned.
Harbinger: Last November when I contacted you for your comments, you were in Cuba. How was the trip?
Dow: There are 11 million people in Cuba who are caught in a Cold War time warp. They are caught in a political environment created by their leaders. They are just people, struggling, trying to be happy and to have the same things that we have here in the U.S. With Russia, as the U.S. began to open up relations with them, Russia opened its borders and we began to have even more exchanges between the two countries that broke down more barriers than by keeping the barriers up. I strongly feel that lifting the embargo against Cuba would allow things to change quicker. I think if we want changes to come to Cuba, that is the best way to do it. Our current policy is outdated. We are dealing with communist China, with Vietnam, where I spent three years of my life as a young soldier, with North Korea and Iran, and we canít deal with Cuba right off of our coast in a more modern, open fashion than what we are doing. I think anyone that is in the know knows that itís all about the Florida anti-Castro Cuban vote. I just donít think itís right ñ it is not in alignment with trying to be leaders and trying to do the right things in international relations.
Harbinger: You have traveled to Cuba three or four times, havenít you?
Dow: Yes, and we have a hundred delegations back and forth. I believe more leaders around the U.S. need to stand up and say they want to see something changed. Embargo is essentially doing the opposite of what it is purported to do; it is not changing anything down there. The other countries in the world, especially the Spanish-speaking countries, are making a tremendous amount of investments in Cuba. The last time I was there, I stayed in a hotel that the Dutch built, and the buses I rode in were made in Brazil. All kinds of investments are being made by other countries, and meanwhile our business people are the ones who have lost the appliance market, the automobile market and these kinds of things. A good example of why embargoes are not a good policy-weapon, if you want to call it that, to create ideological change was back when Jimmy Carter was the president and he created a wheat and grain embargo against the Soviet Union. American farmers lost something like $17 billion worth of grains in that market. It turned out that the Russians bought grain from Canada for $16 billion dollars. They saved a billion dollars, and the only people that got hurt were the American farmers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is strongly against embargoes as political tools, and they are strongly against the Cuba embargo. A recent poll shows that 75 percent of the American public feel the embargo should be lifted.
Harbinger: Your administration has been known as being quite inclusive in involving every segment of the Mobile community. Last November City Council member Bess Rich requested that you broaden the base of the City of Mobile Industrial Development Board by appointing directors with background from health-care, the environment, and city planning. Five City of Mobile IDB directors are serving past their terms, and the terms of four others expired last month. What are your plans? What qualifications and qualities do you look for in making appointments to the City of Mobile Industrial Development Board?
Dow: You have to look at the nature of the board and its function when you appoint the directors, and I have tried to do that in all cases. Iíve got two health-care administrators on the Industrial Development Board -- Mr. Clarence Ball and Ms. Celia Wallace are both hospital administrators. I have appointed Dr. Ken Brewington, who is the president of the medical association in the county, to that board. Thatís three out of eleven people that are health-care related. Another person that I would like to put on that board when a slot arises is David Yeager of the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. David is very knowledgeable and an able administrator in environmental planning. I have a small-business restaurant owner, Patrick Marshall, on there. I have several bankers or retired bankers on the board who can serve as financial analysts, looking at what the net economic benefits are going to be. There are financial aspects to it that experience in the banking world could provide analytical functions to the board, to evaluate what benefits the tax break would bring to the community. Two people from the utilities world, Cheryl Thompson from Alabama Power Company, and John Davis from Mobile Gas, are the people who will price the utilities right for us to be competitive, when you look at the fact that we are competing against areas such as Texas and other places. In nearly every case, you have one last meeting with that client, and that little bit of movement in the costs of utility is what caused that company to come to Mobile. So having those persons on the board is extremely important. We have someone from the advertising industry that has a division specializing in environment communications. We have women and minorities. So I think I have a diverse board. I think one of the points of my administration over the last twelve years has been the tremendous diversity on the boards that I appoint. I donít believe we have any problems in that area. I will continue to be alert to the future and continue to be very diverse.
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