Mayors question French’s campaign

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Three Shelby County mayors have publicly voiced their opposition to recent campaign mailings of State Sen. Steve French who claims he is simply informing voters of his opponent’s record.

French, a Mountain Brook resident, is running for the District 15 State Senate seat which is comprised of a large portion of Shelby County along with the eastern part of Jefferson County.

He is opposed by former State Sen. John Amari, a Birmingham resident.

In the Senate race, French has distributed thousands of fliers which claim Amari has repeatedly raised both sales, &uot;96 times,&uot; and property taxes, &uot;eight times,&uot; on Alabama residents.

French also claims Amari has made thousands of dollars working for Jefferson County and Alabaster while he served as a state senator.

Amari, who served for 16 years as a state senator, lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 1998. He has since worked as a consultant and attorney for several municipalities.

Columbiana Mayor Allan Lowe stated his opposition to French’s actions in a letter sent to the senator and released to the media.

The letter was cosigned by Pelham Mayor Bobby Hayes and Wilsonville Mayor Jake Morris.

&uot;We take exception with the recent mailings that either you or your supporters approved to be sent to the voters of our district,&uot; Lowe wrote. &uot;Why do you feel it necessary to downgrade another opponent when it would be just as easy, and far more positive, to inform the voters of your accomplishments, if any … Most, if not all, of your claims have no merit.&uot;

French, who bases his claims in the fliers largely on editorials from local newspapers, said in a written response to Lowe that voters need to be aware of Amari’s tax record and his relationship with Jefferson County and the city of Alabaster.

&uot;Is it really your contention that it is perfectly OK for a State Senator to so obviously use his office to enrich himself?&uot; French asked.

Amari called French’s claims &uot;baseless,&uot; stating French has tied him to every local sales tax bill passed during his tenure in the Senate.

Amari also addressed French’s claims he voted for eight property tax increases. Amari and Mayor Lowe noted the fact that property taxes can only be raised by a vote of the people.

In those cases, Amari said, he and other senators unanimously allowed voters to determine whether to raise their own taxes.

Amari said he did receive $48,000 for his legal work in 1997 for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department &045; a move he has been criticized for by several media editorials. He said, however, the only ethics complaint filed was dismissed by the state’s Ethics Commission as having no merit.

In 1998, Amari was hired by the city of Alabaster to seek grants. He was to receive a percentage of any money attained.

Amari never secured any grants for the city, however, and former Alabaster Mayor Steve Rauch said Amari was never paid for any of his work.

&uot;This is a smear campaign. This is below dirty politics. I want this race to be about the issues,&uot; Amari said.

French said that is his intention &045; to discuss the issues.

&uot;I am accusing him of not using good judgment,&uot; French said. &uot;I think it is important to point that out.&uot;