BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - A race to elect a new mayor in Birmingham, Alabama, a U.S. city at the heart of a county troubled by a municipal debt crisis, went to a run-off on Tuesday.
The election was triggered by the conviction in October of former mayor Larry Langford on corruption and fraud charges linked to a multibillion-dollar debt in Jefferson County, of which Birmingham stands at the center.
The county is struggling to avoid what would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history and though finances for the state’s largest city are separate from those of the county, many voters say clean government is a key issue in the race.
Attorney Patrick Cooper gained 40 percent of the vote while William Bell, a member of Jefferson County commission, won 25 percent, according to official results. The rest of the vote was split between 11 other candidates.
“This proves the people of Birmingham want to see more than business as usual,” Cooper told reporters after the result. He said in an interview that if elected he would make hiring more police officers and job creation his priorities.
Charges against Langford relate to his tenure as president of Jefferson County’s commission earlier this decade when the county ran up huge debts as it refinanced a plan to upgrade its sewer system.
That debt mushroomed in February 2008 when bond insurers downgraded the debt. Since then the county has struggled to renegotiate terms with creditors and also cope with a short-term financial crisis.
Langford defeated Cooper in the mayor’s race in 2007. Since his conviction the city has had two interim mayors.
The run-off is set for January 19.
Writing by Matthew Bigg; Editing by Eric Walsh