Ward V Albany City Commissioner Bob Langstaff
ALBANY — When it came time for Bob Langstaff to qualify for a run at a fourth term on the Albany City Commission, the local attorney thought hard about it. He talked it over with his wife, Deidra. And they prayed about it.
In the end, Langstaff determined serving on the commission allows him a better opportunity to do what God has called him to do. Working to try and meet the needs of the hungry, the homeless, the community’s youngsters staring a life of crime in the face is a priority for Langstaff, and being in a position to make decisions that impact that segment of the population — as well as focusing on other issues that are important to the community in general — won out in the end.
“Understand, I don’t believe God wants people to freeload; that’s not what I’m talking about,” the Ward V incumbent who drew no opposition in the Nov. 5 municipal election said. “But I do believe God requires us to give a helping hand to those in need. I did some soul-searching — figuratively and literally — and Deidra and I decided this was a great vehicle that would allow me to give back.
“I’m in a different place in my life than where I was six years ago. My wife and I separated for a year, and when we got back together we decided to do our best to live Christ-centered lives. Obviously, we’re going to fail at times, but I’m convinced God wants me in a position where He can provide opportunities for me to help. That’s who I am today, and if (making God the focus of my life) bothers anyone, they have an opportunity to put someone else in this seat.”
The commission seats held by Langstaff and his colleagues Ivey Hines (Ward II) and Christopher Pike (Ward III) came up for re-election during the 2013 political cycle, but only Hines and Pike drew opposition for their seats. Hines will face political newcomers Bobby Coleman and Demetrius Love, while Pike is being challenged by Cheryl Calhoun and B.J. Fletcher.
In an effort to help voters understand the issues facing the city and get to know the candidates running for office, The Albany Herald has conducted one-on-one interviews with all seven qualified candidates. Today’s interview with Langstaff is the first of seven consecutive days of election coverage, planned to coincide with the start of early voting Monday. In an effort to be as fair to all candidates as possible, Herald editors planned the articles to run on consecutive days through Saturday, based on the contested wards’ numerical value and the alphabetical order of the candidates.
Thus, coverage will continue Monday with Ward II challenger Coleman, continue Tuesday with incumbent Hines, and follow Wednesday with Love. Coverage of the Ward III race will start with challengers Calhoun and Fletcher on Thursday and Friday, respectively, and conclude Saturday with Pike.
Registered voters in Wards II and III have an opportunity to vote weekdays starting Monday and continuing through Nov. 1. Early voting will be conducted at the downtown Elections office from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Voting in Wards II and III will be conducted Nov. 5 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
As the second-longest serving member of the Albany Commission, Langstaff knows all too well the issues that the city faces in what has become, with federal and state issues looming as well, a time of political uncertainty. He said addressing those issues in the most pragmatic way will be vital.
“I’d like to see us finish our airport terminal and get it right,” the Ward V commissioner said. “And, certainly, crime is probably the most important issue in Ward V and throughout the city. Folks in my ward are worried about what’s going to happen next, whether criminal activity is there or any other part of the city. What I believe we have to do as a commission is make sure our law enforcement officials are fully equipped. And by that I mean that they have suitable salaries and they have the tools they need to do their job. The integrated justice information system we’re looking at now is a big part of that. It’s silly to think of all these agencies fighting crime without all the information available in one place.
“I also think it’s important to provide meaningful jobs for our citizens, and that’s where our ‘Deal-Closing Fund’ gives us an edge. The genesis of that fund was a concern I shared with other commissioners that the MEAG (Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia) credits (some $90 million returned to the city’s Water, Gas & Light Commission) would be spent a little here and a little there until it was gone. The city’s Long-Term Financial Planning Committee came up with a plan to use that money in a way that we all could get behind. Everyone on the commission agrees that jobs are important.”
Langstaff said 12 years as part of the city’s government can turn into a grind, but “small victories” — such as police pay increases, an incentive-filled retirement plan for public safety employees and development of a fire training center — make the effort worthwhile.
Asked if he endorses the candidacy of his current colleagues or any of their challengers, Langstaff said doing so is not a good idea.
“I’d never do that; that would be a disservice to my constituents,” he said. “No matter who is elected, I’ve got to work with them.”
Langstaff said the spiritual aspect of his service has become even more important to him as he’s gotten a first-hand view of how poverty and joblessness impact the community.
“I have conflicting emotions about the homeless issue here,” he said. “On the one hand, there are way more welfare needs than a city our size and with our resources can handle. On the other hand, I can see that some of our homeless people are so desperate, they’re doing what they have to do to survive. And unless we address this issue head-on, the city is never going to be what we want it to be.
“It’s particularly difficult for people who have been convicted of a crime, perhaps even a long time ago, who find themselves on our streets with little opportunity of finding employment. I’m conflicted because this is an issue I deal with on a personal level, but I’m not sure what role, if any, city government has in solving the problem.”
Langstaff said he’s particularly concerned with the overcrowding of the local Youth Detention Center, which has enticed career adult criminals to prey on youngsters.
“You have bad guys who are adults who are getting kids to commit crimes for them,” the commissioner said. “They tell the kids they won’t go to jail, and many times they’re right. That’s why I’m proud to see (Albany Police Department) Chief (John) Proctor working on a creative program that will serve as ‘triage’ for youth offenders. That’s the kind of issue that’s important to our community.
“I live here, I work here, my kids go to school here. I want our community to be the best it can be. Certainly there are plenty of people as qualified or more qualified to do this job than I am. If one steps forward in the next four years and says he wants to give this a try, I’ll endorse him and step aside. Not saying that I want to choose my successor, but I’d hate to see someone in this seat who wants to market his own business or his own self or who has an ax to grind against someone. I think we have a strong commission whose members respect each other. That’s important to conducting the business that will impact our city’s future.”