Birmingham Mayoral debate

Birmingham's 2 mayoral candidates squared off in their first head to head debate tonight, just over a week away from the special election.

William Bell and Patrick Cooper exchanged heated words at times tonight as they outlined their plans for Birmingham in the next 2 years.

The theme tonight on many issues was experience versus a fresh perspective.

The pointed exchanges started early in Birmingham's first mayoral debate at UAB's Alys Stephens Center Sunday when political newcomer Patrick Cooper talked about watching a mayoral debate from 1979 when Bell was running for city council.

"All of them talked about the 3 issues plauging the city," Cooper recalled. "No jobs, declining education, and the crime rate. Guess what? If you fast forward 30 years to where we are now, those issues still plauge the city and they are far, far worse."

Bell's reply was to tell Cooper he thinks most citizens want to focus on solutions, not problems.

"People care about this community," Bell said. "People who don't want to hear what's wrong with our city, but people who want to hear what we can do to make our city better."

Both candidates said they support using more city money to expand the city's transit system, but both also said fixing the city's budget deficit estimated at between $20 and $30 million must come first. The budget issue also brought out a fresh front in the battle of the two campaign themes, Cooper's "fresh face" versus Bell's experience.

"I understand the budgetary process," Bell said. "I understand it better than anyone that I know of, especially anyone who's running for this office."

"Our career politicians have had a shot, and they have failed," Cooper replied. "One thing we know is if we keep voting for the same names and faces, we're going to keep getting the same results."

Both candidates said education would also be a top priority if elected. William Bell said he would ask the business community to step up and support the city's school system to help it stop the loss of students.

Cooper says he would like to use city funds to set up voluntary Pre-K and afterschool programs to supplement the city's school system. Tonight was the first of several debates these candidates will hold this week. The final debate will be televised live on Fox6 in primetime during Fox 6 News at 9 on Thursday night.