By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on January 10, 2019
For the past two decades,The Birmingham News has established a clear pattern and practice of portraying me in the most negative light possible. The News’ negative articles and editorial cartoons on “Donald Watkins” have centered on my ability to generate business revenues as an attorney, banker, and entrepreneur.
To be clear, my businesses has never focused on minority business set aside programs. To me, these programs are demeaning. I compete against mainstream companies in law, banking, energy services, and media content on a "head-to-head," competitive basis in the ordinary course of business. My businesses have been very successful in the United States and abroad.
The Birmingham News has a "Donald Watkins problem" with my approach to business, especially after I became a professional journalist in 2013. I am one of the News' competitors in the online news business. My readership is growing, while The Birmingham News is struggling to stay alive and relevant.
The Birmingham News Has Been Obsessed With Watkins’ Financial Success
On December 31, 2018, I republished a Scott Stantis editorial cartoon that appeared in the Sunday edition of The Birmingham News on November 7, 1999. The cartoon depicts newly elected Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Bernard Kincaid squashing a blood-sucking insect (bearing my name) to death.
This cartoon was a clear reference to the millions of dollars in legal fees I earned successfully representing the City of Birmingham in 74 cases during Mayor Richard Arrington, Jr.’s term in office. Arrington was Kincaid’s predecessor in office. The News wanted this revenue source stopped.
Instead of killing me (figuratively speaking), Mayor Kincaid developed a healthy respect for me as a local businessman and the co-founder of Alamerica Bank. Alamerica, which was founded in 2000, received the first bank charter issued by the State of Alabama Banking Department to an African American-owned financial services institution.
Kincaid served two terms as Birmingham’s mayor from 1999 to 2007. During this period, the City of Birmingham deposited a total of $40 million in Alamerica Bank, which was fully insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The City’s deposits were properly collateralized and fully protected.
At the time of the deposits, Alamerica was ranked fourth nationally among its peers for return on assets by an independent community bankers association. The Bank had a track record of success that was second to none, and it was headquartered in Birmingham.
If Kincaid’s decision to deposit City money into local banks had been made solely on national rankings and objective qualifications, Alamerica Bank would have won all of the City’s banking business. To promote goodwill within the City’s banking community, Mayor Kincaid also deposited City money in eight other Birmingham-area banks whose peer group rankings, capital ratios, and overall objective qualifications were inferior to Alamerica’s at the time.
Many of these banks had to apply for and receive federal “bailout” money from taxpayers in order to survive the Great Recession of 2008. Alamerica Bank did not require any “bailout” money, or "corporate welfare," during the Recession.
The Birmingham News Wrongfully Painted Kincaid and Watkins as “Crooks”
Alamerica Bank held less than a quarter of one percent of the Birmingham market when it took in City deposits. Yet, The Birmingham News only singled out the City’s banking business with Alamerica for special criticism.
On September 9, 2007, The Birmingham News published an article titled, “City is biggest customer of Watkins-founded bank.” Citing comments from Tony Plath, an associate professor of banking at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the article suggested that the act of placing the City’s deposits in a bank with political ties to Mayor Kincaid constituted a “real conflict of interest.”
The article made no mention of the tangible political support Mayor Kincaid received from the other banks that held the City’s $412 million in deposits during his two terms in office. The financial contributions these banks made to political action committees supporting Kincaid apparently did not constitute a “real conflict of interest,” while the political contributions from my circle of friends and business associates did (at least in the eyes of the News).
The News also published a demeaning cartoon of Bernard Kincaid in a baseball cap with “Mayor” on the front and a “Made by Watkins” tag hanging out the back. The dog-whistle message to the metro-Birmingham community was clear -- Kincaid and I were crooks.
Even though I did not support Mayor Kincaid during the 1999 mayoral race, I developed a significant amount of respect for his intellect and understanding of municipal government issues, as well as his transparency in government operations. Kincaid maintained and expanded the system of checks and balances and internal financial controls we had put in place during my 14 years of service as Mayor Richard Arrington, Jr.’s special counsel. These checks and balances allowed me to investigate and stop: (a) the theft of drug informant money by Birmingham narcotics officers, (b) the theft of cash from the City’s Parole and Probation Office, (c) the theft of property from the police department’s property room, and (d) the theft of cash from various Boutwell Auditorium financial accounts.
Alamerica Bank never asked Mayor Kincaid for City deposits. The Bank took in the City’s deposits because Kincaid was insistent on ending the exclusion of black-owned financial institutions from participation in the City’s banking business.
Not one time during The Birmingham News’ campaign to smear my name, did this new organization disclose its own $16 million conflict of interest involving me. As detailed in “The Birmingham News’ $16 Million Undisclosed Conflict of Interest," I was an arbitrator who awarded six former Birmingham News distributors (all of whom were white) $20 million in damages on December 30, 2002 because they were the victims of the News’ serial fraudulent conduct against each one of them. The findings of fraudulent conduct and award of damages (which was reduced on appeal to $16 million) were affirmed by the Alabama Supreme Court on June 11, 2004.
The Birmingham News wanted Bernard Kincaid to destroy my businesses and me when he took office in 1999. He refused. Only then, did the News embark upon a crusade to publicly disparage both of us.
PHOTO: Dr. Bernard Kincaid, Ph.D., J.D., served with distinction as Birmingham, Alabama's mayor from 1999 to 2007.