Today is election day. Rarely has a mayoral election been so important to Decatur.
Two strong candidates are in the runoff for mayor.
Don Kyle, 62, was mayor from 2004 to 2008, before losing to incumbent Don Stanford. Kyle’s previous term was marked by several significant accomplishments, especially in attracting retail, but occasionally marred by the infighting and gridlock that may have cost him the 2008 election. He did not initiate Ingalls Harbor, but his hands-on involvement helped it to become a major Decatur success story. The Crossings, a retail success, began negotiations with Decatur during his tenure.
Carl Cole, 37, lacks both the baggage and experience that comes with previous elected office. He has a fresh perspective on the city’s challenges, and he has done his homework in finding solutions that have worked in other cities. He would come in at half pay, part of his push to get the City Council to hire a full-time city manager. He has a low-key demeanor that stands a chance of creating consensus among often-divisive City Council members.
Having two different candidates who promise different leadership styles is not what makes the election unusually important, though.
Handled correctly, Decatur could be on the verge of a renaissance.
The city managed to build its industrial base in recent years, even as the nation struggled through a recession. More than $1 billion was pumped into area industries in the last two years, with major expansions at companies that include Ascend, Bunge, Daikin and Hexcel; and new plants that include Polyplex and nearby Carpenter Technologies. This industrial growth adds people and payroll to a city that has struggled to grow.
The retail sector — long a Decatur weakness that caused consumers to go to neighboring cities — is booming. A state-of-the-art movie theater at Decatur Mall and a Kohl’s-anchored shopping center will open their doors early in the next mayor’s term. As the national economy improves, more retail opportunities are likely.
Downtown Decatur, long an eyesore, is enjoying a transformation that is the envy of cities around the nation. The recent completion of the Alabama Center for the Arts already has prompted commercial development.
It’s a new Decatur, and we need a leader who can sell its potential to the City Council, to prospective businesses and — maybe most importantly — to residents bogged down by Decatur’s past.
Both candidates have the skills to do the job. Voters have a chance today to make sure city government embraces a vision that gives Decatur residents renewed pride in their home.
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