Former Mobile City Council President Levon Manzie died about a year ago, but the fight to commemorate his legacy in Mobile continues as his family and the city’s elected leaders struggle to find a permanent solution.
The year-long problem will come down to what Manzie’s family and Mobile city leaders can agree on: Name a park? A building? A new memorial of some sort? A street?
Manzie, a fourth-generation minister, died on September 19, 2021, at age 38, after a lifelong battle with kidney disease.
Keta Manzie, 41, who was the late councilmember’s sister, said Tuesday that her family wants to see something more “meaningful” named after her brother than a small park, which was presented to the family as a possibility. last year.
She said the family refused to name a small nondescript park in the Lafayette Heights Historic District after Levon Manzie.
“We appreciate Levon for what he did for the city as a whole,” said Keta Manzie. “In my personal opinion, I want to see something bigger than Layfette Heights. That’s why I’m crossing my fingers. I want him to be recognized for the way he lived and served Mobile every day and every night.”
The fight to change the name of something in Mobile after Manzie comes on the first anniversary of the councilman’s death. He also comes less than a year after an unusual and controversial campaign in which his image was used as campaign material for a special interest group during a special election for his city council seat.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, in a statement Tuesday, said the city continues to “work with the Manzie family on how best to commemorate Levon’s contributions to the community on a permanent basis.”
“Although he was taken from us early, Levon accomplished more than many will accomplish in a longer life,” Stimpson said. “We have not forgotten. We won’t forget it.”
Mobile City Councilman CJ Small, who became council president after Manzie’s death, said there were talks among city council members last year to “acknowledge and do something for Levon” and that renaming the park in Layfette Heights was one of the solutions.
“One thing we could have done quickly last year was to name Layfette Heights Park after Levon, but I know some family members have issues (with the park’s name change),” Small said. “I speak on behalf of my office, but I wouldn’t mind doing something to acknowledge Levon and keep (her memory of him) alive.”
Small defended the Layfette Heights park proposal, saying it was “one of Levon’s parks.” The image of him also served as a background for Manzie during Zoom calls made during the COVID-19 pandemic, Small said.
“I know he worked hard to turn that into a neighborhood park and included a clock (in it),” she said.
Keta Manzie said the family doesn’t necessarily support renaming a park after her brother. She said Levon Manzie played a significant role in shaping city policy during her lifetime, including his support for the ongoing reconstruction of Broad Street. Stimpson credited Manzie for his work in helping push for the revitalization of St. Louis Street, among other things.
“Two days before he passed away, he was talking to the mayor,” said Keta Manzie. “I have seen him dedicate a large part of his life to the city.”
Levon Manzie was the youngest Mobile resident to serve on the Mobile City Council when he was elected in 2013. He was elected without a contest four years later.
He was seeking a third term for the council at the time of his death. Manzie finished with 48% of the vote in a six-person contest for the District 2 council seat on August 24, 2021. To avoid a runoff, she needed 50% of the overall vote. William Carroll, a former councilman before Manzie, finished with 23%.
After his death, Manzie’s name remained on the October 5 runoff ballot along with Carroll, and controversy ensued.
Carroll won the runoff election amid concerns about interference from “outsiders” during the run-up to the runoff. The campaign materials with Manzie’s image on them were paid for by a political action committee linked to a GOP operative.
While municipal races are nonpartisan, Manzie supported Democratic politicians throughout his life.
Manzie’s family also did not participate in the campaign after his death. But the family, led by her mother, Jeanette Manzie, urged people to vote for her son during the runoff as a way to pay tribute to her.
Said Keta Manzie: “My mother made it perfectly clear after the election was over that no matter what the outcome was, she would not bring Levon back. We just wanted to finish the race for Levon. That’s what it was all about.”
Carroll won with 57% of the vote or 1,465 to Manzie’s 1,100 votes.
Keta Manzie added: “As far as the results go, Levon lost by a small margin and that says a lot for someone who’s not here.”
The push to commemorate Levon Manzie also comes a year after the Mobile City Council voted to commemorate two of its longest-serving members in two large city parks. An entrance to Medal of Honor Park in West Mobile is named after former Councilwoman Bess Rich. Tricentennial Park was renamed in honor of Councilman Fred Richardson.
Richardson said the reason for renaming a park after him was because “it was my vision to create a park” where a housing development once stood more than 20 years ago.
Richardson said his name has not yet been added to any signage in the park.
Commemoration of Mobile politicians has been difficult at times.
Former Mobile Mayor Sam Jones, who was the city’s first and only black mayor, said there have been “a lot of black elected officials who haven’t been appointed to anything significant” within the city.
Jones was set to rename Government Plaza in his honor in 2013, after the council voted unanimously to do so. But the three-member Mobile County Commission, which owns and manages the building, never voted on it.
Jones, who is now a member of the Alabama House of Representatives, said he is the only former mayor who served the city who “has nothing named after him.” Jones, who served on the Mobile County Commission for 18 years before becoming mayor, said there is a road in Mt. Vernon named after him.
He said he thinks it’s appropriate for the city to do something more meaningful to honor Manzie, who was only the second black person to serve as council president.
“He served well and was president of the city council,” Jones said. “The pocket park was his doing, but the only problem is that no one uses it. A good idea, but there is nowhere to park.”