On multiple occasions President Ronald Reagan, referenced John Winthrop, a puritan, pilgrim minister who referred to his fledgling new colony as – A city on a hill. In his farewell address, President Reagan expounded on what he viewed that city to be – “in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
Just a few months ago we elected a President whose campaign theme was Make America Great Again. America cannot be great unless Alabama is great, Alabama cannot be great unless Jefferson county is great and Jefferson county cannot be great unless it’s cities and communities are great. America will not become great from the top down – America’s greatness will be reached when it’s cities, counties and states become great. We will then lift America to greatness.
Unfortunately, our community has not always been what President Reagan and John Winthrop envisioned for America. In a manner of speaking, we have not always put our best foot forward. Our community has, in times past, been known for wrong and hurtful actions, we have been known for misdeeds and mismanagement. We have, at times, been our own worst enemy.
But, as a collective group our community has refused to allow us to be defined by the troubles in our past. We are striving for a better future for ourselves and for our children.
In the spring of 2014 I knew I was in my final race for the Alabama House of Representatives. At that time, I was content to return to the private sector and leave politics behind.
But as the calendar turned to 2015 I started to see changes take place in our community. I saw a community yearning for greatness. A willingness to step up and embrace the opportunity to be a great community. I saw our community rally and fight together rather than fight each other. I saw a community that was prepared to be the next great southern community. A community ready to soar into the national spotlight – not based on our mistakes – but hailed as a community that refused to give up on itself.
My excitement was beyond description.
When I became aware that the District 5 seat on the Jefferson County Commission would be open in the 2018 election I knew I had a desire and a passion to run for that position because of its importance to our community.
After much prayer and many conversations with business leaders, other political leaders, my sons, many friends and supporters I am announcing today that I am a candidate for the Jefferson County Commission, District 5 in 2018 election.
The biggest political fights I’ve ever engaged in always involved fighting for what was in the best interests of Jefferson County. Over the years, I have come to realize how much the tremendous love and passion I have for our community has grown. I want to see us stretch ourselves beyond where we are now to help build a better future for our community and all its members.
Some have asked why I would give up a safe House seat to run for a position that has faced so many challenges over the years. It’s simple, my skill set is better suited for the needs of Jefferson County, now more than at any other time.
I’ve never considered running for this office prior to now. But, I know I can work with the other members of the Commission to build on the hard work and successes my predecessors Jim Carns and David Carrington achieved. These two men faced some dark days in Jefferson County, their actions put us in a position to begin to grow and prosper as a county. We would be in real trouble without their leadership. I would like to thank them both for their contributions and service to our county.
But there is so much more potential here than has been ever realized. Jefferson County drives the economy of our state. We are the most populated county in the state and we make up almost one-third or our state’s economy. A healthy Jefferson County is a healthy Alabama.
Counties to the north and south of us are experiencing tremendous economic growth and enjoying an influx of new people. But our state is largely stagnant. In part because we are stagnant. Jefferson County’s population is roughly the same as it was 40 years ago. Our region’s job growth has been flat since 2000.
Jefferson County must step up its game and join in the economic revival if our state is going to keep up with other southeastern states.
Over the next year you will hear me focusing on these five themes as we determine who will lead our county forward.
First, we must look at our county’s infrastructure. Senator Shelby has secured federal funds for construction of the Northern Beltline. Some state leaders tell us it will be built over the next 40 years. That is totally unacceptable. We must make this a priority. There is no infrastructure project in the state that would lead to greater economic development than the construction of the Northern Beltline. The corridors we travel, through District 5, highway 280, 31 and I-65 are the most traveled roads in the state, these roads must also be addressed. This will be a top priority for me.
We must be more aggressive in pursuing economic development projects. This isn’t a swipe at anyone or any past efforts, but we must build off of those efforts. We have to tell our story better – but first we have to believe the story we tell – that Jefferson County is a tremendous place to build a business and raise a family. Too often we allow the most negative voices in our community to define us. We must take back our story from those negative voices. We must recognize our great potential. When we believe our story and tell our story with passion, we define ourselves – and we convince others our community truly has true value.
Tourism offers some wonderful chances for new economic growth in our area. We have established venues such as the Vulcan, the Birmingham Zoo, Aldridge Gardens and many other great spots. But we also have new reasons for visitors to come to Jefferson County, Red Mountain Park, one of the nation’s largest urban parks is beginning to thrive, Railroad park has helped lead a renaissance in Birmingham’s midtown. Think of the possibilities of a trail system paralleling the Cahaba River.
We are two years away from the bi-centennial of Jefferson County, maybe it’s time we talked about a Jefferson County Homecoming and worked with our communities and high schools to invite home some who left and never came back. Some of them may be so impressed with the changes that they may just decide to stay.
We must find a better way to address the plague of drugs in our community. Too many young people are losing their lives to this monstrous epidemic. Last year Jefferson County averaged a drug overdose death every 36 hours. We averaged nine more drug overdose deaths a month than murders, in a year where murders had a very dramatic increase. What we are doing is not working. Law enforcement officials are overwhelmed. We must offer more support to our Sheriff while we also find better ways to offer intervention, treatment and rehab. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. We need new and better solutions.
Part of these new solutions must include partnerships with the faith community. In and around Jefferson County are programs such as King’s Home, Big Oak Ranch, The WellHouse, all serving some of the forgotten in our communities.
There are other programs like Better Basics, The Birmingham Athletic Partnership and Habitat for Humanity reaching into the inner city to improve the quality of life for many who don’t experience the best parts of the American Dream.
Our churches must continue to reach out into the communities they serve, some poor, some middle-class and some affluent. The church must continue to bind up the broken. The church must walk with them through difficulties like addictions, an unplanned pregnancy, a sudden job loss or an unexpected death or divorce. The church must restore them to wholeness. Broken people make for broken communities. When our churches help bind up the broken they build up our communities.
Finally, our community has a tremendous network of colleges and universities, UAB, Samford, Birmingham Southern, Miles, Jeff State and Lawson State help make up a community of over 30,000 college students. Keeping them here should be a priority. We must create opportunities in Jefferson County for these students plus opportunities for Jefferson County students who chose schools elsewhere. Coming home must always be a viable, and hopefully preferential option.
Capitalizing on the presence of UAB in our community is a must. Right here in District 5 the county must work with our local cities to develop a research and technology corridor. The opportunities for the public and private sector to partner together are only limited by limited vision. UAB is the economic engine of not just our region, but of our entire state. Opportunities abound there, UAB is world renowned for its cancer, cardiac and diabetes research we now have the potential to be on the cutting edge of genomic research, a relatively new frontier that will unlock the mysteries of health issues that confounded researchers just a generation ago.
Right here at UAB, in Birmingham, Alabama we have the opportunity to set ourselves apart as the world leader in Sports Medicine and Safety. We can become the teaching center for sports medicine and safety, we can make Birmingham the place for top tier athletes to train and rehab. We can become a manufacturing center for newer and safer sports equipment. The opportunity is there if we will only reach out and take it.
The funny thing about Jefferson County is that it’s history is a lot like our own personal histories. There have been some good times, some have even been great – and there have been some bad times, some of them embarrassingly bad – but still we move forward one step after another. We don’t let our past, good or bad, define our future.
We are making our future today.
During my time in Montgomery I have had several members of the legislature scoff at Jefferson County and ask me why we can’t get our act together or why don’t we just give up. I remind them that Jefferson County tax dollars are paving their roads and educating their children. But I also tell them you don’t give up on the people you love and you don’t give up on the community you love.
I awoke this morning to the sounds of a storm. My first thought as I heard the thunder was about this outdoor event. But I could roll over and rest some more because I had seen the weather forecast and I knew the storm would pass. The storms brought on by bankruptcy and corruption have passed as well. We have clear skies and the wind at our back. There will be other storms in the future, that’s the nature of life. But today, we have a chance to do big things. I say let’s go for it.
A few years ago, during a difficult time in my own life I came across Micah 7:8. It has become one of the most significant verses in the Bible to me personally. I think it may apply not only to me – but we could declare the same thing for our County. The prophet Micah said:
“Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy.
Though I fall I will rise;
Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.”
We have an opportunity, working together, to make Jefferson County a light for all of us – that same shining city on a hill that a pilgrim minister longed for over 300 years ago.
Thank you for being here. Your presence honors me. The primary election is June 5th, 2018. I would ask you over the next 54 weeks, to lend your support, talk to your family, friends and neighbors on my behalf and on election day please vote for Jack Williams, Jefferson County Commission. Thank you, God Bless you, your families and Jefferson County.