Jefferson County Sheriff-Elect Mark Pettway had little support from fellow Democrats and virtually no money as he campaigned to unseat longtime Republican incumbent Mike Hale.
But, as he gathered his transition team in early December outside the Mel Bailey Criminal Justice Center, Pettway reflected on what he did have and what ultimately proved responsible for his narrow 51.45 percent to 48.54 victory.
“Family and faith and the Black Press,” Pettway said as he prepared for his Jan. 11 swearing-in ceremony that will official mark him as the first African American in Jefferson County, Alabama which includes Birmingham, ground zero for the Civil Rights movement. “I will always make time for the Black Press,” Pettway said.
A pre-election feature by NNPA Newswire and Black Press USA likely put Pettway over the top in his campaign to unseat the five-term incumbent Hale, he said.
“My election was different from everyone else’s. The incumbent had a lot of money, a name that was recognized and people in both parties supported him leaving me as the only one to run against the Jefferson County incumbent,” Pettway said.
“When the Black Press did the article, everyone was calling and was reporting about this great article and it was amazing what happened after.”
Pettway said it underscored a belief he’s had in the Black Press since he was a child living just two blocks from Birmingham Times founder Dr. Jesse Lewis Sr.
“The Black Press is so important, it keeps us knowledgeable about what’s going on in our community and the things we need to know,” Pettway said.
“We need to tell our own story, our way. History needs to be told from our point of view, not someone else’s and that’s what the Black Press does.”
A lifelong Jefferson County resident, Pettway, 54, grew up in a working-class neighborhood not far from Birmingham’s Legion Field Stadium.
The son of the late Retired Army Sgt. First Class Officer Ed Pettway, and Jefferson County School Teacher Camilla Satisfield, Pettway said he began to realize his potential as his parents provided him with something far greater than material wealth.
Specifically, they instilled in him strong moral principles, a robust work ethic and a burning desire to excel.
Given his ability to implement this rare yet useful combination of gifts, many said it’s no surprise he learned the value of hard work and determination at an early age.
Pettway began his professional career in 1991 at the Birmingham Police Department, where he served as a Correctional Specialist.
In 1993, he joined the Fairfield Police Department as a police officer, where he helped to strengthen the law enforcement system by responding to calls, making arrests, issuing citations, and testifying in court cases.
In 1999, he joined the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy.
In 2008, he was promoted to detective and has earned a number of commendations from Hale.
He said community policing and criminal justice reform top his agenda.
“We have to bridge the gap right now between law enforcement and the community. Right now, there’s no trust and we need body cameras and dashboard cameras and, under my watch, we will be transparent,” Pettway said.
And, if anyone doubts he’ll keep his campaign pledge, Pettway said just pay attention.
He said he learned a great lesson from his campaign against Hale and that experience will help keep him vigilant.
“I had to get out there and fight and fend for myself. I had to be a real grassroots campaign,” Pettway said.
That fighting spirit is a needed hallmark particularly for African Americans who lived through and otherwise know the history of Jefferson County and Birmingham.
“During the Civil Rights movement, we were seen all around the world as law enforcement sick dogs on black people, turned water hoses on black people and then, of course, the Birmingham Church bombing that killed those four little girls,” Pettway said.
“But, we have so much history. I grew up two blocks from [Dr. Lewis]; two blocks from [activist] Angela Davis; next to [Arthur Davis Shores] the first African American to serve on the Birmingham City Council; and the first black judge from Alabama,” he said.
Pettway campaigned on several issues like keeping schools safe, providing the best training for deputies, bridging the gap between the community and law enforcement and helping those incarcerated to get the educational and vocational training they need to get jobs once they get out.
“I want to make sure that everybody receives fair treatment across the board. I want to be able to lead in a way that people are willing to follow and I want to have a program for those with mental health issues to protect them from losing their lives or getting hurt [when police are called],” Pettway said.
He said criminal justice reform is a major issue he’ll pursue.
“I want to educate those incarcerated so that there’s no revolving door. We don’t want to send people home the same way they came in – we want to educate them, and we also have to stop the privatization of prisons and start teaching inmates skills that are necessary to become employed when they leave prison,” he said.
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