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Selma, Alabama Mayoral Election Under Way With Strong Racial Undertones

Aired September 12, 2000 - 2:24 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It's election day in Selma, Alabama. Folks are casting their votes for mayor in a runoff election with strong racial undertones. Incumbent Mayor Joe Smitherman is white, his opponent black. Unemployment remains unusually high among African-Americans in that city that once was a flash point in the civil rights struggle.

Here's CNN's Brian Cabell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The polls are now open in Selma, Alabama and Joe Smitherman, the long-time mayor here, 36 years, is in his toughest battle ever. He, of course, is a one- time segregationist, says he regrets it, says it was wrong, and says he more than anybody else has brought diversity to this town.

MAYOR JOE SMITHERMAN (D), SELMA, ALABAMA: I've appointed nine out of 12 department heads to African-Americans, and these are key ones: police chief, fire chief, city clerk, et cetera. Our postmaster is black, the president of the superintendent of our school system is black, the principle of our largest high school is black.

CABELL: His opponent is James Perkins, a 47-year-old black man, a computer consultant. He says race is not the issue here, economics is.

JAMES PERKINS (D), SELMA MAYORAL CANDIDATE: The unemployment for the city of Selma is 18.1 percent. It's documented by the State Department of Industrial Relations. The unemployment of the African- American community is 27 percent, and the white community about 7 percent. We have depression-level economic conditions.

CABELL (on camera): Selma, of course, is known as one of the famous civil rights battlegrounds of the 1960s back on March 7, 1965, known as "Bloody Sunday." Demonstrators were beaten by state troopers and sheriff's deputies as they tried to cross that bridge. Joe Smitherman was mayor then, he's mayor now. The question is, can he keep his job for a 10th term?

I'm Brian Cabell, CNN, Selma, Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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