Terri Sewell is working hard to make history as the first African-American woman elected to Congress from Alabama, but her constant theme in a packed town hall meeting at Birmingham's West End Library Thursday evening was that this election is about representing the people of Alabama's 7th district above all else.
She stressed the need for job creation and economic development in the district, touted her experience, leadership and good character and pledged to be an honest, effective voice on behalf of the 7th congressional district.
“I just want to say I know who I am and whose I am. And if you send me to Congress, I will take those same values of faith, personal responsibility, hard work to Washington and roll up my sleeves and work on behalf of you each and every day. It's about remembering who elected you. It's about remembering why you're there: to represent the people.
If you honor me with your vote, I will serve you with honor. … You won't be embarrassed by anything I say or do.“
Time and again she told the crowd she would always put the interests of the seventh congressional district first and foremost, even ahead of partisan politics or President Obama's priorities should the two ever conflict.
“The issues are about creating jobs, better schools, improving our infrastructure, helping our senior citizens, making sure we have Medicaid and Medicare … that's what it's about. … We have to make sure healthcare is accessible for everybody.”
Sewell, daughter of Selma's first African-American city councilwoman, noted that she had interviewed Shirley Chisolm for her thesis “Black Women in Politics: Our Time has Come” back in the 1980's. She quoted Chisolm on public service:
“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.”
… and said, “I'm asking you on July 13th to let me make a small deposit toward that rent. You will not, you will not, be sorry.”
The first question from the audience was actually a statement about the attack ads being run by Sewell's opponent. A woman stood up and told Sewell that anytime you try to do something good you should expect to be attacked and said “Keep on going on, baby, because we're behind you.” Sewell said she believes the negativity is an attempt to distract voters from the issues that ought to be front and center in this election, but declared that she intends to fight back.
“This election is way too important for us to get this choice wrong, so I want you to know that I can't fight for you if I'm not willing to fight for me. The issues are about creating jobs, better schools, improving our infrastructure, helping our senior citizens, making sure we have Medicaid and Medicare … that's what it's about.”
Several members of the audience said they were community activists or organizers. Two women stood up and thanked Sewell for coming to their neighborhoods to do door to door canvassing. I spoke with both women after the meeting; one lives in Fairview and the other lives a few blocks from the West End Library. They both said they called Sewell and asked her to come to their neighborhoods and were very pleased that she came and knocked on doors with them — I got the impression that few candidates do door-to-door campaigning in these women's neighborhoods. These stories fit with what Sewell has told me before, that knocking on doors and talking directly to voters is what she most enjoys about the campaign.
It's odd that Sewell, who regularly visits community centers, senior centers, apartment complexes and nursing homes to take her message to the people, is being painted as an elitist by her opponents. Some have even alleged that she wears designer shoes. That irony is not lost on Terri Sewell. When I saw her in Huntsville a few weeks ago she literally pulled off her shoe, held it up to me and said, “See? Nine West. These are not designer shoes.”
Sure enough, they were Nine West black pumps (photo at right) although the label was so worn I could barely make it out. Those non-designer shoes have carried Terri Sewell and her pro-jobs, pro-economic development, pro-health care, pro-education, pro-choice, pro-fair pay, pro-financial reform, pro-people message a lot of miles in the sixteen and a half months she's been on the campaign trail. Tomorrow those black pumps have a chance to carry Terri Sewell over the single biggest hurdle on the path to becoming Alabama's first elected black Congresswoman — securing the Democratic nomination in a runoff with Jefferson County Commissioner Shelia Smoot.
Polls are open from 7 am to 7 pm on Tuesday, July 13th.
Joe Openshaw also covered Sewell's Birmingham town hall meeting. Read Terri Sewell: the honest candidate here.