April 28, 2017

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle running for governor

April 28, 2017

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle announced Friday he will seek the Republican nomination for governor, becoming the first high-profile candidate to declare for the 2018 race.

In a phone interview Friday, Battle, 61, said he would prioritize job creation, education funding, and ethics reform as governor, though he said he was still developing specific plans in those areas.

“At this point, there’s a feeling there’s a disconnect between the people and state government,” he said. “What has happened in the past has cost confidence in state government.”

Battle, currently serving his third term as Huntsville’s mayor, has shown strong fundraising abilities and can tout the Rocket City’s prosperity in recent years, but will be entering his first statewide race and will have to build name identification in the contest. The mayor said he had started traveling and doing meet-and-greets.

“You start in May with the election in June of next year,” he said. “There’s a lot of area to cover.”

The governor’s contest, to this point, has drawn few commitments, even from the state’s sitting chief executive. Eileen Jones, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kay Ivey, said Friday that Ivey – who became governor April 10, after former Gov. Robert Bentley pleaded guilty to two campaign finance violations and resigned – had not yet made plans for 2018.

“She’s had a lot on her plate for these few weeks she’s been in office,” Jones said. “She’s still considering it but a decision has not yet been made.”

Public Service Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh filed paperwork in March to run for governor but said Friday she was still weighing her options. Former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, a Democrat, said in an email Friday she would make a decision about the race in the next two weeks. Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, is also considering the contest.

A graduate of the University of Alabama and a realtor by trade, Battle was first elected mayor of Huntsville in 2008, and won re-election in 2012 and 2016, outdistancing his opponents in votes and funds.

As mayor, Battle has overseen good times in the Rocket City. Huntsville was the only one of Alabama’s four major cities to experience population growth between 2010 and 2015, rising from 180,105 to 185,594, according to the U.S. Census.

Huntsville’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent in February, better than the state’s 5.8 percent figure and Birmingham and Montgomery’s 5.7 percent rates. The median hourly wage in the city in May 2016 was $18.31, compared to $15.43 in Alabama; $16.99 in Birmingham; $16.21 in Mobile and $15.42 in Montgomery.

The city benefits from the presence of NASA and federal contractors. Officials have also worked with state government to land large factories, like Remington, a gun manufacturer, and Polaris, a vehicle manufacturer. Last year, Battle campaigned for a constitutional amendment – which ultimately passed – to allow cities to borrow money against expected property tax revenues to build infrastructure to attract business.

Battle cited efforts to improve the city’s education system and infrastructure as keys to the city’s recent success and said it took “hard work and shoe leather” to recruit the industries.

“We’ve developed a model strategy to grow and prosper, and that’s the same model and strategy we’ll bring in state government,” he said.

The mayor has also faced controversy. Huntsville has struggled to desegregate its schools and labored for decades under a federal court order to do so. Battle argued in federal court in 2014 for the court to lift the order, saying the city could address the issues on its own, but has expressed support for a 2015 court order on the matter. He said Friday the city was following the order.

“As you work through that, it’s very important to work through it methodically,” he said. “It’s not easy working through that.”

Black leaders in Huntsville have also questioned the mayor’s commitment to extending prosperity to their areas. The mayor said he has worked with minority communities “day in and day out.”

“We have provided new police stations, new schools, new parks, new roads … if you look at the overall population, we have done a very good job working with every section of town,” he said.

Battle has been married to his wife Eula, an education nonprofit director, for 28 years. They have a son and a grandson.

The mayor said he believed in “the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage,” but said his campaign would emphasize jobs and governmental responsibility. He said he would remain in the race if Ivey jumped in.

“We don’t run against somebody,” he said. “My philosophy is you run for office because you have something to offer and you think you can make a difference in the state of Alabama.”

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