The Langford Verdict

John Archibald has a lovely meditation on the Langford verdict that expresses very well what I’m feeling right now.

The evidence was overwhelming. The verdict irrefutable. Justice was done.

For that we can all be grateful.

But that’s not what I thought as I watched the man who once seemed so limitless sit stricken in his chair. It was not what crossed my mind as his wife, Melva, slipped away to compose herself.

what I felt as Langford asked for his wife, as he kissed her on the cheek and said, ever so quietly, “It’s going to be ok.”

All I saw and felt in that moment was sadness.

Sadness for a man shattered by his obsessions, for the woman who must pay the debt of his mistakes.

Sadness, really, for a community that has endured far too much graft and bribery and corruption.

I believe Langford is guilty.  I was disappointed when the voters of Birmingham elected him mayor in the face of his long track record of fiscal irresponsibility, not to mention the basic disregard for honesty and truthfulness that let him claim to live in the city while he maintained his residence in Fairfield.

I’m glad he’s out of office.  I’m glad he didn’t walk away unscathed.  But I can’t celebrate the idea that he will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison.  I certainly can’t celebrate the near-certainty that his sentence will be longer than that imposed on Bill Blount, who profited so much more from the corruption.  Yes, I know Langford could have taken a deal, and it’s testimony to his near-delusional arrogance that he didn’t.

We’re no nearer to cleaning up the mess that is Jefferson County than we were yesterday.  Or any of the other yesterdays when a long line of public officials either were convicted or pleaded guilty.  Sending them to prison is supposed to make a statement that we as a society reject the endemic, almost casual corruption that apparently persuaded Larry Langford it was just fine to take cash and suits and dress shirts from people who wanted his ear.

But it’s only the first step, and we can’t afford to stop there.  We have to elect people who see government service as a selfless act, who believe that government can operate efficiently and effectively on behalf of the governed — all the governed, not just those with a check in hand.    It’s going to take a long time to restore trust.  I don’t know if we can.

No, I’m not celebrating today.

6 Responses to “The Langford Verdict”

  1. Andy says:

    I cannot help but think of the final scene of ‘The Music Man’ when the townspeople have Harold Hill cornered. Just before the arrival of the band when the tar and feathers are being prepared, Marian gives a speech to the assembled citizens of River City about how Harold has actually delivered on his promises – the music, the fireworks it all was there as he promised. In his own way, Larry brought Birmingham what he promised. The city and neighborhoods are cleaner, urban life has been revitalized. He was very much a Harold Hill type con man in his own way rather than a crook deliberately fleecing the body politic. Other, nastier actors, who really should have known better are much more responsible for that.

  2. Kathy says:

    You’re right, and that’s a big part of what bothers me about Larry’s potential life sentence. Yeah, he took bribes and made sure his buddies were richly rewarded, but he didn’t get that much out of the deal monetarily — at least in contrast to Blount’s millions. Not excusing him at all; he should have known better.

    I’m having a hard time seeing Frank Matthews as Marian. :)

  3. Don says:

    Kathy, to me (and probably many others) the amount of money or other considerations Langford received through bribes isn’t as indicting as the mere fact that a public official who hopes to have the trust of his constituents would take anything at all as a bribe.

  4. Kathy says:

    Don, my post wasn’t written in response to people like you — I’m one of them. I was responding to John Archibald’s excellent column and in opposition to the vindictive, hateful stuff I’ve seen online. The number of people who revel in thoughts of prison rape is as mind-boggling as it is nauseating.

    Part of me says, yes, Langford as a public official should be held to a higher standard. Another part says we all should live up to that standard. Blount and LaPierre shouldn’t get substantially shorter sentences just because they were private citizens or because they rolled first.

  5. Don says:

    Kathy, I agree that we all should conduct ourselves ethically and honorably, and that everyone involved in the LL affair should be punished. At the same time I think it may have been less likely to be able to convict LL if it weren’t for Blount and LaPierre throwing him under the bus. If that gives them a lighter sentence, so be it, because we need to hold our public servants accountable in whatever way we can.

  6. Larry says:

    Larry Langford reminds me of Richard M. Schrushy, death row inmates, and, of course, myself. When faced with troubles involving crime, a higher power seems to be the thing–or person–to turn to. Like death row inmates, the idea of God is very much apprecitated. “God” is not worthy of my undidived attention as long as things are going well in my

    But, oh brother, you let me get myself in trouble. I know that God is on the main line, and I will call him up at 555-JESUS.

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