Lee County Commission District 5 candidate A.L. Dowdell accuses Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller, others of being Ku Klux Klan members
By Opelika Observer Staff
In a series of recent online videos posted by Joyce Dowdell, Lee County Commission candidate Bishop A.L. Dowdell Sr. accused several local politicians and businessmen of being affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.
Dowdell, a candidate for the LCC’s 5th district, labeled Auburn Mayor Bill Ham, former Alabama House of Representatives Speaker Mike Hubbard, former Alabama senator and realtor John Rice, Lee County Probate Judge Bill English and Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller as KKK members and donors to local candidates who oppose the vision that he and the late Rev. George Bandy stood for.
“John Rice, he’s connected to the Ku Klux Klansmen. John Rice is connected to these people, Mayor Fuller is connected to these people, Judge English they are connected to these people … and now they’re trying to tell you who’s going to be the county commissioner, who is going to be your state representative,” Dowdell said. “They’ve given certain candidates money, and if you don’t believe it, go to the secretary of state, look at our contributions and you will see John Rice, you will see the mayor of Opelika have given certain members and certain people to run against us and try to defeat us.”
Fuller dismissed Dowdell’s claims as a mere attempt to garner additional votes.
“It’s no secret that I have actively supported my friend Richard LaGrand for county commission. Unfortunately I don’t live in Richard’s district so I won’t be able to vote for him,” Fuller said. “What Dowdell is saying about me and others sounds like desperate attempt to get votes. In Opelika, we’re trying to bring folks together and build relationships. I’ve said it a 1,000 times…we’re all in this together…good times, bad times and in-between times. It doesn’t matter what color you are, your gender, age, where you go to church or who your grandfather was.”
LaGrand, longtime Opelika resident and radio personality, denied Dowdell’s claims of receiving funding from Rice and contested that he has spent the last 30 years on the air waves serving the needs of Auburn-Opelika’s African-American community.
“John Rice has not filtered money to my campaign. But you know what, after I saw the accusations, I said, ‘you know what? I should have called John Rice’ … my immediate reaction was (to be) saddened, because people know me. I’ve been around for a while,” LaGrand said. “I live in Opelika, I live in Lee County, been on the radio serving people for the last 30 years, an African-American radio station.”
With official endorsements from both Fuller and Ham, LaGrand said that he believes he is running a clean campaign focused on uniting the community at-large.
“It’s one thing to sling mud, but it’s (another) thing to wallow in mud. And I refuse to do either one,” LaGrand said. “Having the support of two local mayors to me has to be nothing but a positive for our communities because we need to be able to work together. And the Lee County Commission’s District 5 consists of a diversified community, with different races, different people – and I represent all the people.”
Another video shows Dowdell talking through a bullhorn while riding through an Opelika neighborhood, endorsing himself, House District 83 candidates Jeremy Gray and John Andrew Harris and repeating his accusations.
“I ask you to join with me and vote and elect Jeremy Gray, District 83, and if you can’t vote for Jeremy Gray, vote for John Andrew Harris. And if you can’t vote for either one of them, let’s not vote at all,” Dowdell said. “We must send a clear message to Mayor Fuller, a devout Ku Klux Klansmen. We must send a clear message to Judge English, all of them are connected to the Klansmen. We must send a clear message down to John Rice and also a message to Mike Hubbard that we are not going to be bamboozled and fooled by them.”
English responded in an email that he does not intend to watch the video, but focus instead on his job as probate judge “rather than wasting time responding to slanderous statements by someone seeking free publicity.”
Gray and Harris both said that they were focused on their own campaigns and did not agree with Dowdell’s accusations.
“I have not given Reverend Dowdell my official endorsement and he has not been helping me in any way run my campaign. I’ve been running a silent, positive campaign and I want to distance myself from this statement,” Gray said.
“I want (the) public to know I’ve served on the city council and as county commissioner, I took care of my people and we’re on our way to Montgomery to do the same thing,” Harris said. “We’ve prayed about this election and we want our campaign to come out in a positive way.”
During a phone interview Wednesday, Dowdell stated that he would stand by his comments, citing them as true.
“I stand by every word that I say, and if I’m lying, let Mayor Fuller, John Rice, also that convicted felon Mike Hubbard and Probate Judge (Bill English) take a lie detector test. And let the chips fall where they may,” Dowdell said.