MONTGOMERY — The August 2019 mayoral race in Alabama’s capital city is heating up and already features a highly competitive lineup of candidates.
Perhaps most well known among the motley field are former Congressman Artur Davis, Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed and WCOV’s David Woods. Reed is the son of Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) head and liberal political powerbroker Joe Reed.
However, it is two political outsiders that are taking the race by storm thus far: Brigadier General Ed Crowell (Ret.) and local attorney JC Love.
Yellowhammer News recently sat down with Crowell at his downtown campaign office, right off the historic Court Square Fountain, and discussed his decorated background, leadership style and motivation for entering the race and policy goals.
‘On the shoulders of giants’
Quiet but commanding, Crowell’s nickname could very well be “The Genteel General.” As he dove into the interview, his background in military logistics was not easy to miss. For each topic that came up, I could see the wheels turn in Crowell’s mind as he thoughtfully considered his response. Genuine yet measured, everything he said fit together neatly.
“We have the old saying in the military: ‘we stand on the shoulders of giants,'” Crowell said. “Well, the backbone of our services is the enlisted force … but there always has to be a leader. And when you’re thrusted into a leadership role, you don’t become a leader just because you’re thrusted into that role. You’ve got to earn your keeps. You’ve got to demonstrate your mettle.”
“And you do that by, first of all, being a good listener,” he explained.
This was a theme throughout the interview — his emphasis on listening as a leader. Whether it was heeding the advice of enlisted sergeants in the Air Force, subject matter experts in the private sector or other community leaders involved with the countless board and organizations Crowell has served, he stressed the importance of operating from a place of knowledge – and how to get there.
This skillet, and mentality, earned Crowell the reputation as being a fixer in the Air Force. He would go into dysfunctional units, listen to the service members, assess the situation and meticulously and personally work solutions.
This kind of experience served him well in his parallel career trajectory in the corporate world. Crowell served both as an active and reserve duty officer at various intervals, which allowed him to build quite the legacy at Blount International and then VT Miltope, where he eventually became president and CEO before retiring.
Whether at one of these distinguished Alabama companies, in a civic or charitable organization or in the military, Crowell has always led by example. One of his core tenets of leadership is that you never ask of someone what you yourself would not be willing to do. It was that frontline mentality that sometimes got him derided by fellow officers in the Air Force, as Crowell would do chores normally reserved for enlisted men and women. However, the same attribute also garnered the respect of the people he was meant to lead, with Crowell noting that troops would walk through fire for him because they knew he would first walk through himself.
“We’re a team, and we’re going to work this as a team,” he added.
For someone who has always been on the civil service side of public life, dipping his toes into politics is not necessarily a natural thing. However, when members of the community started approaching Crowell to run, his modus operandi kicked in.
“I made a decision years ago that I was going to be on the giving end rather than the receiving end,” he explained.
And Crowell has been doing so ever since he came to Montgomery in 1968. His work in the community is renowned, best exemplified by his being named the city’s “Man of the Year” in 2018. From the YMCA to the Shakespeare Festival, Crowell has served on the board or been chairman of just about every civic or philanthropic organization possible in Alabama’s capital city. Each step along the way, his leadership style and dedication to bettering the community one cause at a time has earned him the respect of his peers, which just kept getting him recruited to serve in more and more ways.
He sees being Montgomery’s mayor as the last recruitment destination on his journey — one final, hugely impactful way to give back to the community he and his family love.
Crowell also views his longtime service as a personal investment into the community and future generations. In his opinion, Mayor Todd Strange’s administration has the city moving in the right direction, and the retired general wants to keep this momentum going and protect his investment the best way he knows how – through serving.
“I feel I’ve made a sizable investment in this community, and I think the train is on the right tracks right now,” Crowell shared. “And I don’t want to see any regression in it. The only way I can be assured that it continues, because I’ve never been one to be on the sidelines: if you’re not in the game, you can’t play.”
“So, I made a decision that I’m going to be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And you do that by being in the game. If I’m in the game, I can ensure that my investment does not go astray. … I’m pretty passionate about helping. And I’m pretty passionate about making certain that there is follow-through on whatever we decide we want to do,” he continued.
While noting there are several policy issues and goals he has, Crowell stressed that there are two priorities that stand above the rest for Montgomery right now.
“[T]hey’re visible … education and crime,” he said. “I think the root of crime is education. If individuals are not educated, or they don’t feel like they can be educated, then we’ve got a problem.”
Crowell said he will be a “neighborhood mayor,” visible and personally engaged with each area of the city. He wants to restore hope to the neighborhoods that are in a state of decay — both by addressing vacant buildings and cleaning up overgrown, neglected lots, as well as instituting tangible programs that ensure opportunity is accessible for hardworking people in Montgomery, regardless of their lot in life.
He also said he is “not going to be defensive about crime.” Crowell openly acknowledged the problem and explained that he wants to tackle the problem head-on.
“I’m going to lay the gauntlet down where it is,” Crowell advised.
He also noted that government alone cannot be the solution to Montgomery’s present or future. He urged others to get involved just as he has been for the last half-century: volunteerism. Crowell also shared some advice for those looking to make a difference.
“You learn that you’ve been given opportunities that others may not think that they have, although they were there – they didn’t take advantage of them,” he said. “You should be a spark for some of these others who’ve given up, who feel like they can’t excel. They need somebody like you to show them the way.”
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn