“My sign speaks to how I feel about this city: that we’re about to come full circle from the place where slaves were sold at the fountain,” Bell said. “We’re looking at a building where the orders were written to send a message to Fort Sumter to fire and start the Civil War at the Winter Building. And there I stand as the daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter of slaves daring to run for mayor of the city of Montgomery.”
Bell was born and raised in Montgomery and has spent the most time in the city of any candidate. She wants voters to understand both what she can do for the city, and what she’s already done.
“The driving force behind my run for mayor is that I’ve lived here,” said Bell, District 5 representative on the State Board of Education. “I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think I could win.”
On her 17th birthday in segregated Alabama, the now 67-year-old Bell marched for “for her freedom” with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Seven years later, she signed on as a plaintiff in a Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit against businesses refusing to hire qualified African-Americans. The case would eventually be won and bear her name.
Despite these civil rights victories, Bell still sees a cause to fight for in Montgomery due to what she calls a “serious polarization” between areas such as downtown and the Westside where Bell was raised.
Her goal, if elected, is to bring equality to a city divided by development and educational opportunity.
“I think it is so very sad that you can literally drive around this city and tell the ethnicity of the community you’re riding in,” Bell said. “It’s not just because of the narrowness of the streets or that there are no sidewalks or the houses are run down. I want to improve this city so that all of the accolades that we have gotten recently would apply to every segment of this city and not just one part of it.”
Bell’s platform for improving Montgomery involves economic growth and development, world -class educational opportunities, safety and health for all residents, and an abundance of fairness and justice, according to Bell. The path to these changes relies on two thing for Bell: loving your neighbor as you love yourself and allowing opportunity to anyone regardless of age, race or income.
For her, economic growth starts by revitalizing the westside and attracting good businesses while also training residents to qualify for these new jobs. Bell wants to make westside Montgomery a community “known for excellence” and wants to utilize facilities such as Trenholm State Technical College for job training. She also thinks the middle class is non-existent due to “atrocious” unlivable wages at many jobs and the immense gap between the rich and the poor.
“I want to work very vigorously to move that wage they make to a point where it’s livable,” Bell said. “I think it’s atrocious that we don’t have a livable wage for people who work for us.”
To Bell, education is the “great equalizer” and will go a long way to both bringing in business and providing the businesses with competent workers. To improve education, she wants to improve city schools so the facilities meet the state board standards, raise teachers’ salaries and set up an independent teacher review system to help evaluate and improve teachers.
To her, the Loveless Academic Magnet Program is the template for improving schools. The one thing she’d like to change, is the impression that a good education is only for the rich.
“We talk about a school that is great, and then go to LAMP and you see who picks up who and what kind of cars they drive – BMWs, Lexuses, Mercedes – you’re sending all kinds of messages to these kids,” Bell said. “You’ve got to be rich to be smart, and you know that’s not the case.”
With job training and improved education, Bell thinks gang-related crime will decrease. After speaking to teenagers in impoverished neighborhoods, Bell realized that many see crime as the only option. She wants to show them a better way.
“I’d be willing to bet you they’d like to live in places where they never had to go to young folks’ funerals,” Bell said. “I’d like to think they want to live in a place where they aren’t awakened by the sound of bullets … Give them a reason for wanting to live a decent life and the reason is founded on sound educational principles.”
To achieve these changes, Bell wants to rely on true, active democracy. If elected, she wants to hold meetings with pastors of every faith to deliver her messages to communities and find out what those communities want. She wants people to hold “circles” similar to town hall meetings so people are always thinking of improvements to the city. She also wants citizens’ approval on any funds spent and projects undertaken.
“I believe that the answer to all of this is doing an assessment of every aspect of our city and taking input from our citizens … Taking each one of those categories to our citizens and saying, ‘This is what you want and this is the money we have,’” Bell said.
She’d be the first to tell you how different this approach is from her competition.
“I’m different from Artur (Davis),” Bell said. “I’m running against Todd Strange. I’m running against the way this city is.
“I’m not trying to do things like anybody else has ever done”