Smitherman: 'Today begins era of healing and hope'

Birmingham City Council President Carole Smitherman talks to reporters after becoming the city's interim mayor (WBRC video)
Birmingham City Council President Carole Smitherman talks to reporters after becoming the city's interim mayor (WBRC video)

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham's new acting mayor reflected on the past Thursday and promised cooperation with the city council in her new role.

Carole Smitherman addressed reporters Thursday morning, less than 18 hours after becoming mayor of Birmingham. Smitherman, who is the current president of the Birmingham City Council, automatically became interim mayor when Larry Langford was convicted Wednesday afternoon on federal felony corruption charges.

Smitherman said becoming mayor of Birmingham was a lifelong dream, but she "takes no joy in achieving that dream this way."

"This is a sad time in the history of our city," Smitherman said.

Smitherman praised Langford for his work as mayor for the past two years.

"He was a visionary," Smitherman said.  "He put first the well-being and progress of our people."

Smitherman said she met with Langford and his family Wednesday night at his home, a man she said was her "friend for more than 30 years." She said they talked about his love for the city of Birmingham. She said Langford was having his pictures and personal belongings at his office delivered to him and planned never to return to city hall.

Langford was found guilty on all 60 counts against him, ranging from bribery to money laundering which occurred during his tenure as president of the Jefferson County Commission. Prosecutors convinced the jury Langford took bribes of about $236,000 in exchange for sending county business to the Montgomery firm of investment banker Bill Blount. In return, Blount sent cash and gifts to Langford through Democrat lobbyist Al LaPierre.

Blount and LaPierre both plead guilty earlier this year to charges related in the case.

Smitherman said Thursday it was time to move on.

"Today marks the beginning of an era of healing and hope," Smitherman said. "We cannot let the events of the past several months put the brakes on our progress."

Smitherman said her first order of business would be to talk with the council, the mayor's staff, and other city employees to make sure the city's finances were in order.

"I will review the city's finances to ensure a clear understanding of our resoruces and obligations," Smitherman said. "I have no reason to have any concern on this issue. I just want to make sure the finances are as they should be."

Smitherman said there would be no swearing-in ceremony for her because none is needed. Her position as acting mayor happened automatically by law Wednesday afternoon when Langford's verdict was announced.

Smitherman said the city clerk and election committee would announce an election date within the next four days. By law, the election has to happen within 90 days from Wednesday. Smitherman said any decision on whether she will run for election was "totally inappropriate for this time and circumstances." She said she was focused on retaining her position as president of the Birmingham City Council on November 24 when the new city council takes office.

Smitherman said no personnel changes would happen "for the time being" and said she would continue to serve as president of the Birmingham City Council and occupy her council office.