Victorrus Felder, one of three to vie for the title of Montgomery's next mayor, recently sat down with 1819 News to discuss his campaign and plans for the city should he win his bid.
With only three candidates in the race, Felder's main competition will be incumbent Mayor Steven Reed. The election will be held on August 22.
Reed, who has a comfortable lead in preliminary polls, took office as the city's first black mayor in 2019.
A married father of four, Felder is a Montgomery native who graduated from George Washington Carver High School. After attending Miles College for two years, he returned to Montgomery. Felder has worked with the Alabama Department of Corrections for over 15 years.
Felder also ran for Montgomery mayor in 2019. He says his lengthy experience in corrections gives him a unique ability to restore order in Montgomery.
In talking with the community, Felder said crime was the most significant concern among Montgomery residents. So much so is eliminating a crime a focus of his run that his campaign slogan reads, "Let's make Montgomery safe again."
"Crime is the biggest concern of 90% of the people in Montgomery," Felder told 1819 News. "At a certain point, it was in this particular area or that particular area. Now it doesn't matter where you go. We've had a shooting at a Wal-Mart. We had a shooting over at EastChase. We had a shooting at the Chantilly Wal-Mart. We had a shooting at the Chantilly movie theater. So it doesn't matter where you go now, there's a threat. It's almost like we're in a state of emergency in Montgomery. Today, I was seeing that an eight-year-old stole a car and led the police on a high-speed chase. We had a murder yesterday. We had a shooting this past weekend. So, it's just so much chaos in the streets of Montgomery, and nothing is being done."
He continued, "I think when your concern is not with security, as far as not backing the police, whatever agenda or whatever mindset you have that excludes them, is showing up now with the violence in the streets of Montgomery. So if you don't support your police officers, and it's shown to them that you're not backing them, then that's when your numbers start to decrease. I've had officers reach out to me and ask certain questions as to, if we have a population of 200,000, how can we properly secure people with less than 300 officers?"
According to Felder, the rise in crime in Montgomery is related to a lack of prioritization on behalf of the current administration. He also suggested that crime is intentionally under-reported in the city, and transparency regarding crime would be a priority for him.
"I think it's more of an ego thing," Felder explained. "I think [Reed] is more so caught up in personal agendas and bringing in people, allegedly, that he's close to or has ties to. And he's not bringing in qualified people or having qualified people around him."
"I think you need to be real with the people from day one," he continued. "So there's no need to allegedly lie about the numbers, or hide the number of murders, or hide the number of assaults, or don't report it at all. So, there's a lot of hidden crimes taking place. There's a lot of homicides being ruled as death investigations when you know it's a homicide. I was talking to one young man. And he was explaining that he had a van of kids to do some after-school work. Someone shot in the van, almost hit one of the kids. The police came an hour and 45 minutes later. [They] didn't even want to do a report. He said, 'This is an attempted murder, and you don't want to do a report.' But the officer was like, 'Well, no one was hurt.' So we have a lot of these types of situations going on."
In addition to improving partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, Felder said he would attempt to secure more funding for retaining and hiring new officers to fill the vacancies in the Montgomery Police Department, which is continuously understaffed. He also claimed that increased policing in high-crime areas is paramount, although, admittedly, not a ubiquitously popular solution.
"You have to have the numbers," Felder explained. "You have to have the manpower to secure the city. So my first agenda would be to go to the city council to ask them for an increase in pay for retention and recruitment. A lot of times, we get focused on recruiting, and we up the pay scale for bringing in new officers, but then you have officers that have been there for eight, ten, fifteen years, and you have someone coming in from day one making close to what they're making. So I feel like if we focus more on retention, and we try to bring back officers that left, to let them know, 'hey. You do have a leader that's behind you.'"
"I think now, in efforts to restore order, there's going to be situations that may transpire that many may not agree with. But again, we must beef up patrols in certain areas," he added.
In February, 1819 News published audio of Reed espousing inflammatory comments surrounding the City of Montgomery, Gov. Kay Ivey, Maxwell Air Force Base and more.
The audio featured Reed swearing and discussing his perceived lack of need for the black vote, among other things.
While Felder said that some had expressed offense at the audio, he did not expect it to significantly affect the polls.
"It's an issue to some," Felder said. "Some blacks took offense to it. Some blacks felt like, 'Well, he just worded it wrong.' Some blacks felt like, 'Well, he told the truth.' But there's a lot of people upset about what he said. And a lot of voters that actually voted for him are upset."
Reed has received praise for his progressive stances surrounding social and cultural issues, which many have attributed to the city's purported economic success. For Felder, safety, security and focusing on the community are progressive issues for him.
"Focus on safety, focus on unity and focus on youth development; that's progressive to me," Felder said. "When you get the city back in order, where you're restoring things, you're getting the youth back in a more positive role; you're giving them programs and helping them."
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