Jones and Staff

Garrett Stephens, left, and Doug Jones, center, celebrate with members of the Jones campaign on primary election night, Aug. 15, 2017.
Photo courtesy of Garrett Stephens

Bella Tylicki, Community Reporter

For 35 years, the families of the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing hungered for justice. The prosecutor, Doug Jones, who finally put the culprits behind bars in 1998 will be on the ballot for U.S. Senate this year.

In December, Alabama voters will decide who will work on Capitol Hill alongside Richard Shelby. The Democratic candidate is Jones, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.

Bill Clinton appointed Jones to this post in 1997. In 1998, a Birmingham women’s clinic was bombed just across 17th Street from what is now Al’s Deli and Grill. Jones responded to the scene almost immediately and oversaw the task force responsible for the aftermath.

Later that year, Jones picked up the prosecution against the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing suspects. Both former Klansmen were found guilty. Following the conviction of the bombers, Jones revisited private law. In 2004, he was appointed General Special Master in the case against Monsanto in Anniston, a seminal case in environmental law.

Three years later, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute presented Jones the 15th Anniversary Civil Rights Distinguished Service Award.

“[Jones] has done so many good things in his tenure as an attorney, and I think he would be perfect to send to Washington,” said Collier Fernekes, president of the UAB College Democrats and political science student.

She believes he is the best candidate the Democrats have run in a long time.

“He believes in Alabama, which means a great deal to me because people tend to forget about us,” Fernekes said.

Despite his apparent and numerous challenges as a Democrat in Alabama, UAB students remain optimistic about Jones’ chances.

“If any Democrat can win in Alabama, it’s Doug Jones,” said Garrett Garner, a junior in political science.

Garner ventured that the special election this December will inevitably have low voter turnout, which usually doesn’t bode well for Democrats. He clarified that if Roy Moore wins the Republican runoff, which he believes is the likely outcome, a Jones victory is not impossible. Because Moore is not popular with moderate Republicans, Jones could possibly steal their votes.

“In this new political landscape, nothing is impossible,” Garner said.

Garrett Stephens, UAB’s Graduate Student Government president, serves as Jones’ campaign’s Central Alabama Field Director, coordinating functions such as canvassing, phone banking and events for 17 counties. He works closely with Jones, seeing him almost daily.

“Jones has a proven record of advocating for civil rights and social justice, which is why I was drawn to the campaign,” Stephens said. “Since joining the campaign, I have seen voters realize the importance of voting and why we should elect people who have an inclusive message that will not embarrass Alabamians.”

Stephens also spoke to the role Jones has given college students in the election.

“Doug has done a tremendous job of giving young people major roles in his campaign and allowing us to learn and grow so that we can go on [and] continue to make change,” Stephens said.

Before he entered his current position, Stephens’ role was to help with communications and the media.

“Even then, I would sit in with [Jones] during media interviews and discuss policy issues with him,” Stephens said. “In person, he loves to joke around and make whatever situation he is in [enjoyable]. But, when the need arises, he is very thoughtful and serious about the matter at hand. He is very personable, sometimes to the frustration of his staff, and loves to talk to people.”

Jones’ campaign pillars address the environment, education, economy, health care and women’s health and equality.

“Jones speaks to and cares about a lot of the issues that students and young people care about: paying for school, making sure we have jobs when we graduate and ensuring that we will have a place in society without fear of discrimination and bias,” Stephens said.

Jones’ complete platform is outlined on his campaign website.

The state-wide special election will be held on Dec. 12 between Doug Jones and the Republican candidate, which will be decided in next week’s runoff.

Bella Tylicki can be reached at btylicki@uab.edu and on Twitter @_belty_.

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