Campaign direct mail supporting late Mobile city councilor shakes political race in Alabama
A campaign flyer sent to homes in downtown Mobile this week asking voters to support recently deceased City Council Chairman Levon Manzie was paid for by TSA PAC, a political action committee backed by a veteran of the Auburn’s Republican campaign.
Municipal races in Alabama are non-partisan contests and candidates do not have to announce their party affiliation to appear on a ballot. And Manzie was a supporter of Democratic politicians during his tenure.
TSA PAC was formed on August 31 and is led by Tripp Skipper, a Mobile native who has worked for various GOP candidates over the years, including US Senator Tommy Tuberville’s campaign last year.
“As a member of Mobile, I know that I hope the majority of voters will have the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice in a special election,” Skipper told AL.com on Thursday, a day after. WKRG-TV published a report on the arrival of mail this week in mailboxes in Manzie district.
The senders claim Manzie is still alive, but it is possible that they were posted before Manzie died on September 19. Manzie was 38 years old.
A follow-up mail, distributed throughout the district on Thursday, asks people to vote for Manzie as “the best way to honor his legacy.”
Campaign funding information on the Alabama Secretary of State’s website shows the money for leaflets apparently coming from the Mobile-based Southern Alabamians For Good Government, a PAC that supports various candidates for the City of Mobile office and funneled over $ 322,000 to Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson since he first ran for office in 2013.
TSA PAC’s only major contribution since its inception has come from Southern Impact Group LLC, which is based in Auburn and, according to Secretary of State’s records, was also formed by Skipper in 2018.
According to state records, TSA PAC received a contribution of $ 25,000 from Southern Impact Group on September 20, five days after South Alabamians for Good Government paid $ 37,000 to Southern Impact Group, which provides advice. An additional $ 5,000 from Southern Impact Group was paid to TSA Group on September 23.
TSA Group, in its only expense to date, spent $ 28,122.65 in advertising costs for FP1 Strategies LLC, based in Arlington, Virginia.
The arrival of the campaign flyers comes at a sensitive time for Mobile City Council District 2, which is without council representation after Levon Manzie’s mother Jeanette Manzie suddenly withdrew her name from consideration as temporary council replacement on Tuesday.
Jeanette Manzie was presented on Monday by Stimpson as her recommendation for the replacement of her late son for the duration of her term, which is November 1. The Manzie family are pushing for Levon Manzie to win Tuesday’s second round against former city councilor William Carroll, saying they want to ‘finish the race’.
Early Tuesday morning, Stimpson said Jeanette Manzie was removed from the exam, but he did not explain why. The city council voted to table his nomination without discussion.
Jeanette Manzie, according to the media, cannot vote. She was convicted by a jury in 1992 of felony theft in a felony that amounted to stealing less than $ 30 worth of clothing.
Stimpson said he had no plans to make another date until Tuesday’s second round. The next Mobile City Council meeting is Wednesday.
If Levon Manzie wins the second round, it will trigger a special election that could generate widespread interest in Mobile with major issues looming such as an annexation vote. The special election would take place after November 1, when the new council will be sworn in. If Carroll wins, there will be no special election.
Carroll said Wednesday night he knew nothing about the leaflets. “We haven’t seen it.”
Harry Austin, Manzie’s campaign manager, said Wednesday evening that he was also unaware of the flyers.
In recent days, some pastors from black organizations have expressed concerns over the campaign’s persistence beyond Tuesday, citing annexation and the requirement for a qualified majority vote in city council. The council is represented by four white and three black members in an increasingly majority-minority city. Any change to the city’s qualified majority requirement on nearly all council votes would require the approval of a referendum.
Mobile’s city council in 2019 voted 4-3 in favor of a Stimpson-backed annexation plan. A qualified majority of five votes, however, was needed for it to go to voters in a special election that would likely have taken place in late 2019 or early 2020.
This vote fell along racial lines – Manzie and the other two black members of the council voted against the plan, while the four white members voted in favor of it.
After Stimpson was easily re-elected on August 24, groups supporting a new annexation lobbied for it to be reconsidered after 2020 U.S. Census figures showed Mobile had lost around 8,000 residents or 4 , 1% of its population in the past 10 years. Stimpson said he does not expect the issue to be reconsidered and voted on by the council until Nov. 1.
The demography of the city is changing. Although the city’s black population has seen a loss of 2,697, the city’s minority-majority percentage has grown over the past decade: mobile now counts 51% black and 40% white. In 2010, the racial makeup was 50.4% Black, 45.4% White. Under the 2019 annexation plan, which would have brought properties to the predominantly white western edges of Mobile, the city’s racial makeup would have been more balanced at 48.8% black and 46.7% white.
Robert Clopton, chairman of the Mobile County NAACP, said he believed the flyers were “ulterior motives” of those who rejected them.
“They are (supported) an opportunity for an election that could be persuaded by these groups,” Clopton said. “I am sure they are better equipped financially for another election than anyone else in this riding, including Mr. Carroll.”
Clopton added, “The district needs a representative ASAP and they need one now. The runoff must be decided. I don’t know Mr. Carroll but he’s # 2. He is in contention. I think he should be elected so that the board member represents his district. “
Manzie never lost an election during his tenure as a member of the Mobile County School Board and during his two terms on city council. He finished the August 24 election with 48 percent of the vote in a six-party race. He lost just two percentage points avoiding a second round.
Carroll, who served two terms on the board until 2013, finished second with 23% of the vote.
“It’s a critical race and we’re definitely watching it,” said Clopton.
He added, “We are intensifying our efforts to educate the electorate in this constituency on the possible outcome of the election. They really need to be represented now, not in months. “
Wade Perry, executive chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, called the late city councilor a “great Democrat” and a supporter of the state party. He said Manzie also “got cross votes and support” from Republicans “going back to his first school board race” which took place in 2008.
“It’s positive and not negative and it’s not my job to tell Republicans what they can and can’t do,” Perry said of the TSA PAC support. “It’s the job of Republican President John Wahl.”
Alabama Executive Director Reed Phillips in a statement to AL.com said the state organization “does not have an opinion on the activities of a political action committee during a non-partisan municipal election that does not involve a member of the state executive committee “.
Stimpson’s office declined to comment.
The Southern Alabamians for Good Government, according to recent campaign records, also injected $ 23,000 directly into Manzie’s campaign over the summer and before Manzie’s death. Only Scott Jones, who received $ 33,000 from the PAC, got more in the recent campaign cycle, state records show. Jones will face Josh Woods in the second round on Tuesday.
None of the five other candidates vying for the District 2 seat ahead of the August 24 election received funding from the organization.
The PAC is led by Richard Weavil, who did not respond to a call for comment.
Cory Penn, who appears in the District 1 second round against Herman Thomas on Tuesday, received $ 11,000 in contributions from the PAC. Thomas got $ 4,000, according to state records. The two are in the running to replace longtime city councilor Fred Richardson, who is leaving council on November 1. Richardson, who backs Thomas, remains one of the most vocal opponents of annexation.
TSA PAC is also circulating a leaflet supporting Penn, who said he was just focusing on winning Tuesday’s election.
“We appreciate everyone who sponsors us,” Penn said. “We have supportive people all over the community. We can’t tell people who to support and not to do certain things. We focus on building a strong city of Mobile. This has been our ultimate goal since the start of the campaign.