Oxford mayor not running for 9th term, leaving finance director as only candidate

OXFORD, AL (WBRC) - After eight terms, one of Alabama's longest serving mayors is calling it quits.

Oxford Mayor Leon Smith did not qualify for what would have been his ninth term, when the Oxford city clerk's office closed for business Tuesday at 5 p.m. That was the deadline for qualifying in the city's August elections.

In fact, the only candidate for mayor is the city's finance director, Alton Craft.

In a letter emailed by Smith's secretary moments after city hall closed for the day, Smith said he was looking forward to spending more time with his sons and grandsons. He also gave his full endorsement to Craft.

"I...want what is best for Oxford," Smith said in the letter. "As of November 1st I will be retiring from public life, but I want all of you to know that it has been such a great honor to serve each of you as your mayor. I have always loved this great City, and I will always be grateful to the people of Oxford."

Smith served two terms on the city council from 1976 until 1984, then was first elected mayor in 1984. During Smith's time in office, the Calhoun County city grew so much it actually overtook Anniston, the county seat, as Calhoun County's largest and most populated city. Oxford annexed land including much of the Bynum and Coldwater communities, and developed two large shopping complexes off I-20 that include names like Target, Sam's Club, Dick's Sporting Goods, Best Buy and Publix, none of which had previously existed in Calhoun County or even east central Alabama.

The city also gained a new city hall and a new police department. The Snow Street building that had previously housed both was converted into a state-of-the-art performing arts center. It's located in a historic part of town that recently gained Main Street status to begin a rebirth. The city also built the Cider Ridge public golf course and only this year opened the Choccolocco Sports complex, which is still also under construction.

Smith's time in office was not without controversy. In 1989 he made national headlines by openly opposing an AIDS clinic that opened in the city, with the clinic eventually moving to nearby Hobson City. In 2010, Smith made headlines again when archaeologists accused him of destroying an Indian mound behind the Oxford Exchange shopping center in the name of redeveloping the hill on which it sat. The hill was never developed since.

Smith's health had been failing, and just a few weeks ago he requested the city council president, Steven Waits, take over day to day duties usually held by the mayor. When the city council passed its controversial transgender bathroom ordinance, Smith was too ill to sign it into law, and the council eventually recalled it.

Craft was unavailable for comment for this story. When asked if he was at city hall at closing time, a man told WBRC, "I don't know if I'm allowed to answer that."

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