Lee Busby, 62, is a retired United States Marine Corps colonel and is seeking election this upcoming Tuesday.
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
A: “I grew up right here, went to school here. Back in that day, my elementary school sat where Tutweiler’s parking lot is. Went to the University, graduated with a degree in economics and international finance.
Busby was the president of Phi Delta Theta and graduated from The University of Alabama. Many of his family members are also active in the UA Greek system.
“When I finished that, I didn’t want to go to work in a corporate office, so I joined the Marine Corps as an infantry officer and served over much of the world.
After four years in the Marine Corps, Busby returned to Tuscaloosa to settle down, but after 9/11 he was quickly called back into active service, forcing him to leave his family and business behind.
“But, that was exciting for me. I got to work underneath some of the best leadership in the world – John Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, and I could just name three, four, or five others just like that. I came back and ended up staying until I retired in 2010.”
Now, Busby spends most of his free time doing claywork. His most famous pieces are sculpted busts of fellow servicemembers.
Q: How did you find yourself in public service?
A: “I’ve never been a political creature. I don’t know if you know or not, but I ended up as a write-in candidate for the Moore-Jones race and that exploded.
Busby recounted his disdain for both Jones and Moore in the 2017 special Senate election.
“The Washington Post calls me Sunday night, says, ‘Hey, I hear you’re running a write-in [campaign].’ I said ‘Yeah.’ He said, “Tell me a little about yourself,” and I did. The next morning, the place erupted. I had three young volunteers from the law school. They came running over here. We went out and bought three more telephones instantly just to handle the media calls. Not voter curiosity, but CNN, MSNBC, Fox, all of ‘em.
Busby said he knew the chances to win the write-in run were very low, but he sought more to affect the margins than anything else. The combined write-in candidates took 1.7% of the votes in that close election.
If you look at the strategy and the dynamics, it’s very obvious that, 15 days before the election, you’re not going to run and win the election. The opportunity it did present was to impact things at the margin.”
Q: What are some key parts of your platform?
A: “I likened what we’re going through now as growing pains. We’ve got some difficult things to wrestle with. The good part is, they’re problems that come from growth, not atrophy and dying on the vine. I absolutely believe that those can be handled.
Busby talked about how District 4 is the center of the city, both geographically and socially, and that a good balance needs to be struck between the balance of in-district residents and the broader residents of the community, including students.
“It’s nothing new. You go back and look in Tuscaloosa history, you’ll see people like Captain Dearing, who built the mansion, gets in trouble for firing his shotgun filled with rock salts at drunk cadets walking through his garden. This is not new. It’s just that there’s 38,000 of them.
“If you look at the wonderful side of that, every year, we have about 9,000 very bright, capable people dropping out of the pipeline. When they throw their graduation caps up in the air, they’re standing here in Tuscaloosa. The challenge is how to bring the kinds of jobs in Tuscaloosa that you see in Huntsville, that we get to keep those young people, so that they’re not just temporary residents, they’re not on four-year Visas. I’d like to work with the business community for really creating jobs that will keep some of these people here.
Busby pointed to the recent redrawing of District 4, which moved many student dormitories and a few historic neighborhoods into different districts.
“I want to get the district united. You know, we got a little carved up in a little gerrymandering. It’s insane. You go downtown on the south side of University Boulevard, somebody gets killed 80 feet from you, and you’ve got to go, ‘That’s not my district.’ And it’s not. That had strategic impact.”
Q: What do you think is special about District 4?
A: “I think it’s the experience of having lived here as long as I have. There’s some situations where what you need is someone who’s been there a long time. I think that’s an asset. We haven’t even scratched the surface. This district council race normally boils down to a very narrow focus. In general, it’s what’s left of the people who live in these beautiful neighborhoods along here, the entertainment area downtown supported generally by students, and it’s a shame that we have let our vision get that narrow.”
Busby also cited the two police forces and massive stadium that drives the city’s economics and sports industry. He spoke about his early years on campus, when downtown was packed on Saturday mornings with people doing business, and he recounted seeing the area suffer a massive downturn leading to many downtown businesses shutting down. As a witness to many seasons of change in Tuscaloosa, Busby noted the more recent contrast between District 4’s famed historic homes and the rapidly increasing number of apartment complexes sprouting up.
“We’ve got some bubbling infrastructure problems. You can’t imagine the difference in the density of people down here from a couple of decades ago. This district has the smallest geographical footprint but the largest population density of any of them. To let this district boil down to this little narrow food fight [between the historic homes and modern apartment complexes] is a limited vision, I think. This district is a challenge.”
Q: What would you bring to City Council that is unique?
A: “I hope what I will bring to the job is an experience not only in the district, but I was in the financial business [overseeing more than $130 million], my degree is in international finance, I’m very comfortable understanding this $300 million that we’re bringing in for Elevate Tuscaloosa.”
Q: What experience did running in the 2017 Senate special election give you?
A: “I think the first thing is they’re vastly different in terms of the issue and media coverage. But, if you take those at the macro level and you bring them back down, it’s the same thing but on a different scale. There’s those similarities – I think there’s the requirement to master the issues. I’ve put a great deal of time in the last 8 weeks or so in really immersing myself in the issues. Not the generic, big, happy-feely talk, but where the 16-inch sewer pipe on University Boulevard runs into a 6-inch sewer pipe, and how a 405 new beds at this development are going to impact, that level of thing. If you don’t take the individual initiative, you’ll get run over and not even know you’ve been run over. You won’t even be smart enough to know you just got taken out.”
Q: Do you have a favorite place/memory/event in Tuscaloosa?
A: “I was going to elementary school where the Tutwiler parking lot is now. Every day of my life, as a school kid, I walked down The Strip. Denny Stadium was just this kind of little overgrown high school stadium with no endzones. Fraternity Row used to be right there by the stadium. Drunk fraternity boys would throw lemons from their ice tea at me out of the windows as a kid. It was fun! It was like, ‘This is exciting.’ It was great to grow up down here.”