As Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin seeks re-election, one of his biggest obstacles is the fact that he has seven challengers who will appear on the ballot with him on Tuesday, August 24th.
This will distribute the votes and make it difficult for a candidate to win the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff. It also means that every appearance on forums and debates was full of nooses and arrows pointed at him from different directions.
A poll by the Birmingham Times in June showed Woodfin had a chance of winning without a runoff. The poll showed Woodfin with a sovereign lead of 52 percent.
Four years ago, Woodfin was one of eleven challengers attempting to remove an incumbent mayor, his predecessor William Bell. Woodfin said he and his team knocked on 50,000 doors. “I spent so much time out there that I punctured a pair of shoes,” said Woodfin. The twelve mayoral candidates who ran in 2017 received a total of 38,366 votes.
Woodfin then defeated Bell in a runoff that drew a larger turnout with 42,279 votes cast. Woodfin got 24,922 of these. Bell is back and running back to his old place.
Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales was a pesky enemy during this campaign, attacking Woodfin on many fronts, particularly crime and education. Contractor Chris Woods announced his campaign with an opening volley against Woodfin, saying the mayor was responsible for the riots in downtown Birmingham last year as crowds gathered to demolish a Confederate memorial in Linn Park. Woodfin said he helped de-escalate a situation that could have been worse by agreeing to remove the memorial with the city crews.
Even the lesser-known mayoral candidates have made bold verbal attacks on the mayor. Sports marketing agent Ervin Philemon Hill II, former town worker Darryl Williams and mental health attorney Cerissa Brown have all launched attacks on various aspects of Woodfin’s leadership, as revealed in a joint debate hosted by the Alabama Media Group a week before the election became.
The June poll by the Birmingham Times found Scales in second place with 10.8 percent, behind Woodfin and Bell with 9.6 percent. Woods, Hill, Williams and Brown were well behind the top 3, with none receiving more than 2.4 percent of the vote.
Woodfin has steadfastly touted his achievements in campaigning, forums, and debates, despite skipping several that he described as “some sort of stunt” by groups he says oppose him. “There’s an agenda – I’m not your type,” he said.
Four years ago, he promised to repair cracked sidewalks and potholes in streets and modernize neighborhood parks. He said he pushed through $ 30 million for pavement and other improvements.
“Not you, not me, but we deserve better,” he said recently. He called for a $ 13 million malware removal program. Long-abandoned eyesores like the Ramsay McCormack building in Ensley and the defunct Banks High School in East Lake have been demolished. He pushed a land bank that bought 700 vacant lots. “We have inherited thousands of destroyed structures that need to be removed,” said Woodfin. “The work is not finished.”
Woodfin, 40, grew up in Birmingham, attended Morehouse College and earned a law degree from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. He has a reputation for mingling with the nation’s best Democratic politicians, including President Joe Biden. He spoke at the Democratic National Convention and knows key players in the federal power structure. He was a city clerk for eight years before running for Birmingham mayor.
Now he has momentum as an incumbent. Woodfin raised more than $ 1.7 million for his re-election campaign and has received a long list of supporters including President Joe Biden, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, former Senator Doug Jones, voting rights activist and former Georgia State Representative Stacey Abrams and former Mayor of Birmingham, Richard Arrington.
He has been supported by a variety of groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, the Jefferson County Chapter of the Alabama New South Alliance, the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition, the Jefferson County Democratic Progressive Council, the Birmingham Association of Realtors, the Greater Birmingham Association of. supports Home Builders, Alabama College Democrats, Alabama High School Democrats, and the Central Alabama Labor Federation.
Opponents repeatedly attacked Woodfin last year during the pandemic for taking library and leisure center staff on leave after budget projections showed an underfunding. Woodfin notes that these workers were paid in full from March to September, despite the fact that libraries and leisure centers were closed due to COVID-19.
As the budget stabilized and the city’s economy recovered, employees on leave were restored and all employees in the city received a bonus of $ 5,000 if they were full-time and $ 2,500 if they were part-time.
“We made our people whole,” said Woodfin. “You got a $ 5,000 bonus. I invented it, made it whole, made it better. “
Woodfin also defends his decision to fund the City of Birmingham with $ 3 million a year in Protective Life Stadium for 30 years. Bell said he had never done so much. Others believe that UAB, which will use the stadium as a home ground for football, should have built its own stadium.
But Woodfin says he’s the one who finally created a downtown stadium. “It was a 40-year conversation that all of my predecessors had,” said Woodfin. “The $ 90 million is a long-term investment.”
When attacked in Birmingham for high murder rates, he points out that few candidates have been as personally affected as he is, with an older brother and nephew died of gun violence. Other categories of crime are declining, he said. “Break-ins, down car thefts,” he said.
He has stressed that illegal weapons will be removed from the streets and conflict resolution programs will be removed. “The city administration alone cannot solve this problem,” he said.
Woodfin said he needed to shake up the police force with a new Los Angeles police chief to reform a “buddy-buddy system that no longer works” with a new accountability for the officers.
“You have a police chief who holds people accountable,” said Woodfin. “He does not play. I do not play.”
Woodfin’s opponents have also repeatedly beaten him for his Birmingham Promise program, which awards scholarships to students who graduate from Birmingham City Schools.
Woodfin said the other candidates were misrepresenting the Birmingham pledge. He said it did not take any money away from Birmingham City Schools. The city schools have an independent budget of $ 350 million, and the city is providing additional funding from its budget to help schools and provide youth services. The city budget provides $ 2 million for Birmingham Promise and $ 1 million for psychological counseling for students at Birmingham City Schools.
“The $ 3 million is just an addition,” said Woodfin. He highlighted the high school education programs that pay $ 15 an hour while students receive on-the-job education and work experience.
Woodfin recalls that at the age of 15, he gained valuable work experience packing groceries at a Western supermarket in Birmingham’s Church this month.
“I used to play drums in the youth choir at Christmas concerts,” said Woodfin. “At 15, I was the head of the in-step service, the head of the step team.” He and other young men performed tap dance moves in army t-shirts and boots as part of a Christian soldier theme.
The late Rev. John T. Porter, a former assistant pulpit to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was its pastor. “Rev. Porter baptized me and gave me a Bible, ”Woodfin said. “I’ve spent my life being like Christ and helping others.”
In his first term as Mayor, Birmingham suffered the degradation of the new 2020 census, which showed it is now the second largest city in Alabama after being passed by fast-growing Huntsville. Huntsville has a population of 215,006. Birmingham has 200,733.
Woodfin hopes to help Birmingham recover by revitalizing neighborhoods, reinvigorating the economy and improving education so families stop fleeing the city when their children reach school age. “Black families are moving out,” he said.
He touts his Vision 2025 as the plan to bring Birmingham back, make it safer and improve the quality of life for residents in order to encourage them to stay. “We’re rethinking public safety,” he said.
To some voters, Woodfin appears to be the most honed and most promising executive for Birmingham, knowledgeable in the face of challenges like COVID-19.
“Mayor Woodfin has shown on stage that he is the candidate with the personality, vision and substantial political plans to deserve my vote as both a professional debate coach and a proud Birmingham resident,” wrote Lee Quinn, assistant debate coach of Samford University, in a review of a Mayor’s debate on Aug. 13.
“His tone was a testament to confidence and serenity, and he has a mature ethos that extends well beyond his years,” Quinn wrote. “Overall, Woodfin showed the demeanor of a polished politician.”
The polling stations are open on Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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