Updated as of 2/23/2023 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed held a media briefing Tuesday night to clear up the controversy surrounding a leaked and profanity-filled audio tape. The activist accused of recording the tape, Charles Lee, gave a completely different account of what happened, per WFSA News.
Reed told The Root in an exclusive interview that the audio was edited out of context and misconstrued, leaving out the important parts of the conversation. It was recorded in June 2020 at the height of tensions following the murder of George Floyd. Reed said he’d met with community leaders (including Lee) to discuss ways to keep the peace amidst civil unrest when Lee allegedly started barking about $30,000 he claimed he was owed by the previous administration. In response, Reed was offended, annoyed and rejected Lee’s claim to this imaginary fund.
“I thought it was a disgusting way to approach anyone [while] everyone was trying to pull together to not inflame tensions and not inflame divisions,” he said. Following that is when Lee allegedly started making threats to leak the audio.
“He said he would tell [the community] to burn the city down. The other [threat] was, ‘If you don’t pay us, we’re gonna make sure you don’t get the Black vote,’” the mayor said.
Ahhh... there’s where the cussing and fussing about Black votes came in.
Reed wanted to make it painstakingly clear that he was not trying to diss Black voters and regrets his spicy choice of language. He said given his extensive portfolio of working to increase Black votership (leading the Alabama Voter Education and Registration Alliance, sponsoring statewide bills for voter registration etc.), he would be the last person to discredit its importance.
Reed said for the past three years Lee called his office trying to shop the audio back to him and threatening to sell it to the highest bidder if he didn’t get his payout. Eventually, it was submitted to conservative-owned magazine 1819 News who originally published the leak. Reed said he believes it was a politics scheme since elections are coming up.
On the other hand, Lee told WSFA 12 News this fiasco had nothing to do with extortion.
He said the decision to release the audio was made after he received a “green light” from the other activists who were present at the meeting. While providing no other details about what “green-lighting” the leak entailed, he denied the allegation that he recorded the audio and admitted the clip was edited, but only, he says, for the sake of length (and leaving out his own remarks, of course). Additionally, he denied the inquiry about the money.
“I’ve never heard none of this stuff before in my life - But I’m done talking, and I would never shake nobody down for no $30,000. I’m from Chicago. What is $30,000 gonna do for anybody,” Lee told Alabama News Network.
At this point, we have more questions than answers as to what the beef is here. However, Reed has spoken to the local district attorney about filing charges against Lee. Whatever we haven’t already heard, we will certainly now find out in court.
Reed released a statement Monday night in response to a leaked phone call published in a YouTube video titled “Montgomery AL’s First Black Mayor Doesn’t Care About Black Votes.” Reed was heard saying he doesn’t “f–king have to damn get the Black vote,” as long as he’s got up to 45 percent of the white vote, per AL.com.
The conversation occurred after Reed was elected as the city’s first Black mayor, per the Montgomery Advertiser. He appears to diss Black voters saying their votes don’t matter, noted that he doesn’t give a damn about the Maxwell Air Force Base and that descendants of Confederate soldiers aren’t going to invest in the city - all in-between a mouthful of unnecessary and poorly placed cuss words.
Read an excerpt from the call via AL.com:
“I can come smile. I don’t f——— got to do no goddamn work. I don’t have to do no work systemically and I’m gonna be fine. And guess what? I will always get 38 to 45 percent of the white vote. If I get 30 to 45 percent of the white vote, I don’t f——— have to damn get the Black vote I got this past election and I’ll f——— win,” the mayor allegedly says.
“You got [a] Black city? That’s great. You can have all Black everything, that’s great. You can have all Black everything, and guess what? You won’t have green nothing if the white money thinks that you aren’t looking after their s—- they will take their s—- to Prattville, they will take their s—- to Pike Road and you won’t have s—-,” Reed allegedly says.
It’s still unclear what the actual point of the conversation was, but according to Reed, the audio clippings are heavily edited and out of context. He said in a statement that he was talking with a community member about the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. What does that have to do with all the Black-votes-don’t-matter rhetoric? No idea.
“There is an audio clip that features me speaking privately with a member of the Montgomery community. This clip has been heavily edited and features carefully selected sound bites of my voice. The conversation was recorded without my knowledge or consent by this community member almost three years ago,” his statement reads. “During this meeting, it became abundantly clear to me that this individual sought personal financial gain during a time of crisis in our city, state, and country. You have my word that no one in my administration will ever give in to a shakedown or extortion.”
Local youth nonprofit founder Charles Lee said via Facebook Live that he was part of the conversation that was leaked, per The Advertiser. It’s unclear whether he was the community member who was selfishly seeking financial gain amidst the city’s distress but... he’s the only one who placed himself in the conversation. This is the same man who faked being shot (with a t-shirt covered in ketchup) on Facebook Live two years ago to try and attract more people to his organization.
After the LA City Council scandal, one would think politicians would be a little less spicy on their phone calls given the chance they could be recorded and exposed. If this is indeed an extortion attempt, the one in legal trouble won’t be Mayor Reed.