WASHINGTON — Mobile Mayor Sam Jones pressed lawmakers and federal officials on Monday to help bring jobs to the coast following the summer’s massive oil spill.
Jones said he lobbied Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to also head the spill recovery, on topics ranging from promotion of Gulf seafood and tourism to a littoral combat ship contract that could mean 1,800 jobs for Mobile.
Meetings with U.S. senators and representatives were scheduled for later Monday and today, Jones said, adding that his primary focus is on jobs, not damage claims stemming from the spill.
“Claims are fine, but claims are usually one-time events,” Jones said. “What we actually are looking for is sustained employment.”
Jones was in Washington as part of the “Ready 4 Takeoff” coalition, an alliance of political and business leaders from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida hoping to spur a post-spill rebound along the Gulf Coast.
Pensacola Mayor-elect Ashton Hayward and Ewell Smith, who is executive director of the Louisiana Seafood and Marketing Board, also came to lobby lawmakers.
Hayward stressed the importance of the multi-state effort.
“It’s an imperative that President Obama doesn’t forget about us and the region,” Hayward said. “If we don’t come together in concert, you know, you lose traction.”
He added that economic benefits cross state lines, saying Pensacola could also get a boost if a multi-billion dollar aerial refueling tanker contract is awarded to Mobile.
Jones said he planned to discuss that contract with lawmakers including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa; Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile; Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile; Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis; and Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga.
Jones also sought more information about the littoral combat ship, or LCS, contract.
In November, the Navy turned away from a winner-take-all competition for the LCS contract, instead proposing a split-buy between Austal USA, which would manufacture 10 ships in its Mobile shipyard and Lockheed Martin Corp., which would build 10 ships in Wisconsin.
But Congress previously approved only the winner-take-all approach and must now OK the change for the contract to move forward. The Navy’s deadline for such action is in one week.
Jones said the short timeline would be one of the biggest challenges.
“I think it can get done if it gets through the Senate. I think it will get through the House,” Jones said.
While the military contracts would bring new jobs to the area, Jones said, the Gulf Coast also needs help bringing back old jobs jeopardized by the oil spill, particularly in the tourism and fishing sectors.
Smith, of Louisiana’s seafood board, said coastal businesses need federal help to overcome “perception issues” that continue to make consumers wary of travel to, and seafood from, the Gulf after the spill.
The federal government could also “jump-start the recovery process” by buying more Gulf seafood for its various culinary needs, he said.
“You’re not just talking about the Navy or the military, you’re talking about prison systems, hospital systems, school systems,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of areas where they can help.”