Saturday, July 10, 2010

How Many Members of Congress Does Hoover Need?

It is amazing what facts get lost in the hustle and bustle leading up to an election.

Geography, for instance.

Come with me, if you will, to the quiet, suburban streets of Hoover, Alabama. There, we find street after street of cookie-cutter homes, and manicured lawns. We find none of the problems one has to encounter if one lives in the 7th Congressional District, in places like Ensley, Bessemer, Greensboro, or Eutaw. No poverty. No unsightly substandard homes. No unemployed men and women hanging around on the corner, because there are no jobs to look for. We find nice homes, here, like this one:

This nice home, located at 6053 Waterside Drive in Hoover, is just the sort of home respectable people live in. They live there to have respectable neighbors, not the riffraff you'd be living next to in other parts of the county. In fact, Waterside Drive is in an exclusive gated community, so that all that riffraff can't just wander in off the street and do all the things we know they want to do in nice neighborhoods. For the most part, the nice neighbors here are respectable Republican neighbors. After all, this nice house at 6053 Waterside Drive is represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by Republican Spence Bachus, since it's in his 6th District. It's represented in the Alabama House of Representatives by Republican Paul DeMarco. In the Alabama Senate, it is currently represented by GOP Senator Hank Erwin, but fellow Republican Cam Ward will take over that seat in January. And of course, since it's in Hoover, the mayor is former Republican legislator Tony Petelos. Let's look at these fine, Republican gentlemen:

Yes, they all look like nice, safe neighbors. Not like "those people" you'd have to live next to in, say, the 7th Congressional District. Well, maybe Spence looks like he needs a Rolaids, and that Petelos guy looks a little too Greek, but, hey, he's Republican, so he must be OK. So who owns this nice, safe, gated house in Hoover? Well, the nice lady who does is trying not to be seen there these days. She has an apartment over on Third Avenue North in Birmingham, in the 7th Congressional District. Why on earth, you ask, does she need an apartment in such a dangerous part of town (close to them!), when she owns this nice, safe suburban home behind a gate? Well, it seems she's running for Congress from that 7th Congressional District. Yes, boys and girls, 6053 Waterside Drive in Hoover is the home of Congressional candidate Terri Sewell.

Now, I know what you are going to say. It is clearly set out in U.S. Const., Art. I § 2, that:

No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen.
I know. Nothing in there about residing in the district. And I know Sewell claims to be a resident of the 7th District, in her downtown apartment. But let's see, who does the whole I-live-in-an-apartment-downtown shtick remind us of? Oh, yeah. Him. Funny, when Larry Langford was running for mayor, The Birmingham News ran any number of stories on whether Langford's apartment was his bona fide residence. We read about his multi-room NFL cable package in his Fairfield home, and about the lack of basic amenities in his Birmingham apartment. But, a search conducted for any articles at containing the words "Sewell," "apartment," and "residence," turns up no articles on Sewell's home in Hoover. Of course, the News has endorsed Sewell, and it opposed Langford at almost every step of his political career. While it appears that history will be none too kind to Langford, what's sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose.

Neither is Ms. Sewell apparently ready to burn her gated community bridges behind her. She continues to own her home in Hoover, and while several homes on her street are listed in the Birmingham MLS as for sale, hers is not among them. Of course, in 2008, when Ms. Sewell wanted to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, she claimed 6053 Waterside Drive in Hoover, in the GOP 6th Congressional District, as her residence. I can understand that; there weren't nearly as many people in Republican Country who wanted to be Democratic Convention delegates, so the running was easier. Is Ms. Sewell legally a resident of the 6th or the 7th Congressional District? I don't know. Only a court can make that determination. And, as I noted above, district residency is not a requirement for election to Congress; the only way a court could become involved would be if she were prosecuted for illegally voting in the wrong precinct (including, presumably, for herself). Let's hope it doesn't come to that, but if it does, let's hope a high powered former Wall Street lawyer like her knew not to keep a toothbrush in Hoover.

Where that residence can, and does, make a difference is in Sewell's image of herself, and that has a lot to tell us about her ability to empathize with, and relate to, the residents of the 7th Congressional District. Ms. Sewell did not grow up in poverty. Her parents were both public schoolteachers (as were mine). While not wealthy, schoolteachers in Alabama were no longer skipping meals by the time Ms. Sewell came along. (Thank you, AEA.) She spent several years as a partner in a Wall Street law firm where per-partner profits were well over a million dollars a year. She is now a partner in one of the most elite law firms in Alabama - perhaps the most elite. Her choice of home was certainly not constrained by her income. No longer married to anyone with an interesting history, she need not worry about the size of the home or yard.

Now, I realize that Birmingham has not reached the critical mass of a black upper class, so as to have historic black upper-class neighborhoods, like Atlanta's Collier Heights, or newer such areas in other parts of that city. But it does have decent neighborhoods in predominantly black areas, and it certainly has excellent housing available in more urban settings. My issues with Artur Davis, the departing Congressman from this district, are well known. His choice of residence - currently on Fifth Avenue South in the heart of Birmingham's Southside, his only residence in Alabama - is not one of them. Barack Obama, though his wife's income could have made a mortgage payment anywhere in Chicago, moved onto the South Side.

Sewell's first instinct was to move into a home where her next door neighbor could be - and likely listens to - Glenn Beck. That simply doesn't communicate to me care or concern for the sort of folks she will be called on to represent if she is lucky enough to win election. Should a person of color be precluded from living anywhere he or she can meet the mortgage payment? Of course not. They should even have the right to remove themselves behind gated fences. But representative democracy has at its root a presumption of a community of interest between constituent and representative. Spencer Bachus has a lot in common with the residents of Waterside Drive in Hoover, and his voting record shows that he reflects those interests well. If and when Sewell has to cast votes on financial reform and job creation, will her instincts be those of Tuxedo Junction, or those of the brokers and bankers on Waterside Drive? Hoover has one of its own in Congress. It doesn't need another.


  1. Wow. 1300 words to establish that Terri Sewell has a house in the suburbs. Congrats. I'm shocked the press hasn't rushed to cover this unbelievable find.

    And aside from that, I'm pretty offended by the notion that someone should only live in certain places and avoid living in others because of the color of their skin. And it's perfectly clear that that's exactly what you are getting at with this post.

    Don't feel too bad though. The Smoot campaign is right there with you and your strategy. Terri Sewell went to a fancy school and made some money once as a lawyer, so let's portray her as "one of them", not "one of us", by which we clearly know what she is trying to say.

    Kudos to you though for at least using facts (however irrelevant), instead of lies, like the Smoot campaign has been doing.

    The Smoot campaign says Terri Sewell didn't vote in Alabama until 2008 on at least two radio ads as well as official mailers. That has been proven a lie. Terri Sewell's voting registration form can be found here:

    The Smoot campaign also lied in a radio ad in which they accused Sewell of attending a "Republican ladies event". Unfortunately, that was also a lie as this article explains:

    I get the idea, really I do. When trying to prop up a failing, ethically challenged candidate like Shelia Smoot, your best bet is to try and make the opponent out to be some horrible person, and if you can't do that, make her "one of them". The fact that you had to dig so deep as to say that her owning a house in the suburbs was worthy of a 1300-word post shows just how desperate the attacks have become.

    Give it up already. Sewell is from Selma, and is progressive on every single issue under the sun. If her having a house in the suburbs is all you've got now that Smoot's lies have been refuted, I'd say things are looking pretty good for Sewell on Tuesday.

  2. Terri Sewell has no record of community service or involvement. No one had even heard of Terri Sewell until she became a candidate for Congress. She reminds me more and more of the person she is trying to replace everyday. The voters of the 7th district deserve someone with experience and a proven track record of community service, participation and involvement. Terri Sewell may have been born and raised in the 7th district but she's from the 7th district, not OF the 7th district. The last time voters in the 7th district elected a representative that was OF the district they got the shaft. Big time.

  3. Shelia Smoot does have a proven track record, I'll give you that. It's a proven track record of corruption and mismanagement though.

    An excerpt: "JPMorgan arranged to pay the firms in 2003 to sway the vote of Shelia Smoot, a Democrat, the SEC said. According to LeCroy, Smoot demanded that JPMorgan pay the two companies more, and the fees were raised to $250,000 each. Both firms hired a friend of Smoot as a consultant, SEC papers show. Smoot, who remains on the commission, didn’t return a call seeking comment."

    “'You know we’re going to need her vote, and we’ve got to keep her happy,' LeCroy told the unidentified JPMorgan associate."

    “'She’s one of the three majority commissioners,' he added, referring to her political affiliation. LeCroy said he would rather contribute to a commissioner’s favorite charity than 'handing money to a vote,' according to the SEC."

  4. J.P. Morgan ... hmmmm ... wonder who we know that was working in the securities law department at J.P. Morgan Chase's general counsel back then?

    As for "progressive," if you call making a million or so a year lawyering the reckless and/or corrupt deals for J.P. Morgan Chase et al., that nearly wrecked the American economy, "progressive," you have a funny definition of that term. Even if she's trying to talk the talk today, she sure didn't walk the walk back then. Or now, considering who her current firm represents.

  5. Oh, and Moon (or whichever Cat keeps posting anonymously), Sewell's registration in 1984 is legally irrelevant. She was undeniably a resident of New York since then, and should have been purged from the voter rolls in Dallas County. In fact, if she did exercise that registration and vote in Dallas County while residing in New York, she committed a Class C felony. Is that what you're telling us she did? (And if her residence on Third Avenue isn't bona fide, she did so again when she voted for herself June 1.)

  6. "undeniably a resident of New York" since 1984? Do you have no shame? Or are you that dumb?

    You are so weak and it's showing. Terri Sewell voted absentee while away as a student (which spanned about a decade), which of course is perfectly legal since students are allowed to list their parents' home as their permanent legal address.

    Quick geography lesson: (that was, after all, the whole point of your 1300-word post wasn't it?) Princeton University is in New Jersey. Oxford University is in the UK. Harvard University is in Massachusetts. Note none of these places are in New York.

    For tomorrow's lesson, children, we'll cover the seven continents. Class dismissed.

  7. You also have more mistaken information, not that the 7 people who have read this will be surprised by it or anything.

    Terri Sewell was not a partner at Davis Polk.

    Furthermore, your whole class warfare argument left town with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Who says you have to be poor or live in a traditionally poor or traditionally minority neighborhood to be Progressive? There are a multitude of Progressive reformers who own, run, have started, or work for large successful businesses.

    I resent the notion that Terri Sewell, a product of Black Belt public schools, is being attacked as not Progressive because of her educational and professional success.

  8. You are the one who should be concerned about education. Yours. I didn't say she lived in New York continuously since 1984 - I said her residency in Selma that year was not material, as no one disputes (except people who are too dumb to tell a real progressive from a Wall Street sellout) that she was not a student after she finished Harvard Law in 1992, and from the time she left Judge Clemon's office and began work in New York, she was no longer a resident of Alabama. (And actually, while in his office, she should have been voting based on her place of abode at that time, and I doubt she was commuting from Dallas County.) So, if she was voting in Dallas County after 1994, yes, she was committing a Class C felony. Maybe we should check the records in Dallas County more closely. I am assuming we can at least rely on her statements about working in New York City from roughly 1994-2005.

    As for your education, I think you need to sign up for history. Read The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, about how a bunch of folks with impeccable academic credentials, a la Sewell, got us into the Vietnam War. Of course, you probably don't consider that a non-progressive accomplishment, either.

  9. Oh, and math. Registration in 1984, and law school graduation in 1992 ≠ "about a decade."

  10. Uh, Shelia Smoot has a home in Hoover as well in Ross Bridge. I guess that's irrevelent because she was suppose to be the "chosen" candidate. You guys should've been more fair and balance about your research of Smoot and Sewell. Otherwise, you have known about Smoot's Hoover residence a while ago...