“We aren’t going back to the old Montgomery. We aren’t going back to their Montgomery. This is our Montgomery. This is our moment. This is our time. … Let’s go out tomorrow and let’s make a statement to the city, to the state, and to the country that we’re serious about this new Montgomery. We ain’t going back. We’re not playing around with this at all, and everybody want to know about the South.” 

—Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, on the eve of his reelection  

Old Montgomery is long dead. It killed itself long ago. Yet, new Montgomery just won’t let the past die.  

Indeed, I suspect old Montgomery won’t be allowed to rest in peace as long as new Montgomery falls short of its potential and promise to rise.  

Old or young, time is on no one’s side. Montgomery’s aspirations, like those of any people, will only be realized when her leaders take responsibility for her problems and do the necessary hard things, absent excuses and easy symbolic gestures. For instance, winning elections (especially small-ball local elections with last-second challengers) is easy – almost a sure thing for those blessed to inherit a political machine and a well-known family name – but governing is hard, even for the elect and blessed. 

The re-election of Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed should not shock or surprise anyone, neither should it impress. Much of Reed’s opposition was too little, too late, and too easy to brand as an “old” Montgomery operation backed by the ALGOP and even Donald Trump himself. 

Whether this branding was a charitable, true, and fair description of Reed’s top opponent is beside the point – it worked. Yet it worked in a sort of banal and disappointing way, reminding us of what we already knew as though it was some novel revelation or breakthrough. 

Added to the ho-hum nature of this recent electoral victory are Reed’s support numbers. They were down from his initial 67% victory in 2019 to 58% this time around. If the rumors of Reed’s ambitions to run for Congress in a newly created district are true, such a drop in hometown support and enthusiasm doesn’t bode well for courting the population in a much larger and diverse congressional race. 

Despite their mediocre performance, Reed’s challengers did raise real issues that have bedeviled Montgomery for too long, particularly rising crime and failing schools. These issues existed long before Reed’s tenure as Montgomery’s first black mayor, but now, heading into a second term, Reed must take ownership of these problems as his to solve.  

New Montgomery deserves nothing less than raised expectations and intrepid haste. Tackling such tough issues is not just the right thing to do; it will also bode well for any future congressional ambitions Reed may harbor in his heart. 

Yet, if new Montgomery’s hopes and dreams (especially those heady, socialist promises of equity made by Reed on election night) prove unrealized and unfulfilled, then I suspect expectations will simply be lowered and contextualized in history, as the specter of old Montgomery will again be raised. In the progressive civic faith, the inequities of the past can always be ritually blamed for the failures of the present.  

If new Montgomery is to rise – and as a native son, I hope it rises to become the envy of the world – continuing to blame the sordid past for the lackluster present is a death knell for the future.  

Old Montgomery is dead, Mr. Mayor; let it rest in peace. Let the past die. 

If Montgomery is now “yours” and not “theirs” – if this is indeed your moment, your time to take seriously – then new Montgomery should be prepared to stand on its own accomplishments and face its own failures regardless of past victories and sins. 

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 newsandviews931@gmail.com.

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

Don’t miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.