“You haven't seen a scientist as diabolical as me because no one has come into this with what I have.”
—Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed
Some years have a way of sticking with you. Like once-forgotten seeds thrown to the wind, the deeds of the past repeatedly return as rotten fruits in places and times little desired.
Such is the case for 2023, an election year in Montgomery, AL, where years gone by continue to bring a bitter harvest for the city’s young mayor, Steven Reed. Although Reed has yet to gain an official contender in his re-election bid, Montgomery’s first African American mayor is facing two budding legal challenges that could uproot his political ambitions — lawsuits whose roots stretch back to the early days of Reed's mayoral tenure.
The first lawsuit comes from Charles Lee, a local activist and entrepreneur known for his hot dog stand “That’s My Dog” and non-profit “That’s My Child.” In February 2023, heavily edited audio surfaced on a freshly created YouTube channel, Montgomery Deserves Better. The audio purportedly captured a profanity-laced tirade from Reed, downplaying his need for the black vote and bashing in-state economic investment in Montgomery among other things.
The audio was secretly recorded in June 2020, while the mayor was meeting with local activists amidst outrage over the death of George Floyd. In a press conference following the audio leak, Reed claimed Lee was the man behind the audio, accusing him of extortion and calling him a “shyster and liar.”
“During the course of that meeting, it became very, very apparent to me that Mr. Lee did not come there as a helper to calm the community; he came out of an interest in personal gain,” Reed said at the February 2023 press conference. “He came to shake me down. He came to extort the mayor of this city.”
Reed continued: “We should have prosecuted then, and we should have called into question what Mr. Lee’s motivations were. However, it would not be until sometime later that we would learn that there was an audio recording of which I never knew about at the time. And at that time, Mr. Lee again asked for money in exchange for destroying the tape. … I’ll be willing to testify under oath to what exactly happened, not only that day but subsequent days when this tape was shopped to many outlets, and it was shopped for sale as a way to extort this city and the mayor of this city.”
Lee has yet to be charged or arrested for extortion or any other crimes by Montgomery authorities. He also denies recording or leaking the audio and has now filed a claim against Reed, claiming mental anguish and emotional stress.
The second lawsuit comes from former Montgomery Police Chief Ernest Finley, a man praised as instrumental in keeping Montgomery peaceful during the 2020 George Floyd riots.
In a federal lawsuit filed last month, Finely claims Reed and other city officials — along with the Alabama Ethics Commission — engaged in a criminal conspiracy to oust him from his job. Finley’s claim may have teeth, as it relies on an independent investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s office that concluded the Alabama Ethics Commission conspired with city officials to present false evidence against Finley.
“All in all, Finley has brought seven counts against both Reed and the city, which are race discrimination and retaliation,” the “Montgomery Advertiser” reported last week, “both because of his own race and his objection to ‘intentional race discrimination’ in favor of Black officers; hostile work environment; First Amendment retaliation; conspiracy to violate his civil rights; civil conspiracy under Alabama law; intentional slander and libel; and negligent slander and libel. He also brings one count of due process violations against just the city.” Finley is also seeking reinstatement as police chief, the “Montgomery Advertiser” reports, and is asking for “back pay, front pay and money for damages, as well as changes to the city's equal employment policies.”
Reed recently announced his re-election bid, focusing on providing “opportunity and safety” to Montgomery. The filing deadline is July 18, and rumors abound over who might enter the race. City elections are scheduled for August 22, but no challengers have announced a bid for Reed’s position. But given the bitter harvest of these lawsuits against Reed, the time could be ripe for someone else to take a bite at the apple.
Reed may regard himself as the most “diabolical scientist” Montgomery has ever seen (and he may be correct in his Mephistophelian vaunting), but if a worthy challenger with money and good standing does contest his leadership, then Reed may need not just science, but dark magic — and even Isaac Newton’s alchemy — to survive the rotten fruits of yesteryear’s seeds.
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.
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