Birmingham lawyer Randall Woodfin grew up in different parts of Birmingham. The 36-year-old is now running for mayor. He says he’s connected to communities from North Birmingham to Southtown. And if elected, he says he would revitalize those neighborhoods outside of downtown.
Who is Randall Woodfin?
I am a son of the city of Birmingham. Birmingham is home — born and raised here. My family literally lives all over the city — not just growing up but still today. With that I feel connected to the entire city.
You talk of a need for revitalization. Why is that needed?
It’s good to see Birmingham as part of a national trend of people wanting to be in the city center. There’s growth in our downtown like a lot of other cities in the South. But what I like to tell people is that there is real life in people and resonance west of 65, north of Uptown, east of Carrigan’s and over the First Avenue bridge where there are real issues around people not feeling safe on their porch or in their front yard. Their property values are either going down or staying the same versus going up.
If we don’t focus on neighborhood revitalization for all of the neighborhoods, what we see is only aesthetic, cosmetic. We really have to invest in and support all of our neighborhoods.
So is there a plan that you can share with us at this time?
There is much I can do as mayor. When you’re over a budget that’s close to a half a billion dollars– 426 million in your general fund, $75 million in your capital — you can do a lot to be intentional about improving people’s quality of life.
When it comes down to neighborhood revitalization, it’s going to start with basic services. I’m defining that as street paving, walkable curbs and sidewalks, lights, parks. Is anything about that necessarily sexy? Absolutely not. That is the job of a city. A new mayor has to address that.
You’re saying that people don’t feel safe on their porches. What can the mayor do about that?
I think there are a couple of things. Now I will say that we don’t have enough beat officers actually in the field, in the street to respond to crime. Our response time is not where it needs to be. And I think there’s too much of a criminal element that knows our response time is not where it needs to be. Is that the same as not having enough total number of police officers on the force? Maybe not. Many will tell you it’s not a matter of not having enough police. It’s how the police are being used.
What I’m finding out when I’m in the criminal courtroom, looking at who’s committing crime — the 16, 17, 18 year olds that are picking up guns — we’ve got to replace that with some form of employment.
We need to make sure young people actually finish high school. If they don’t want to go to college, if they don’t want to go to the military. They have the option to finish high school with some form of workforce certification.
You talk about jobs and jobs are part of the economic development. How then do we develop our economy in a way that’s equitable?
Birmingham is the largest in the state of Alabama, but it’s also the fourth largest populated city of blacks. There is an overwhelming amount of concentrated poverty in our city. That’s an issue.
My concern is industry, job placement, job recruitment and workforce training. There is no intentionality around any of the things I’ve just named.
Some cities provide more funds from the city budget for schools than we do. What do you think?
I compare us to Huntsville in how we spend money. The current administration has zero priorities on how they spend money. They just burn through tax dollars. All you have to do is look at a neighboring city within our state, similar in size etc.
The city of Huntsville has 189,000 residents; we have 211,000. They have a $311 million budget. Our budget is $426 million. Size up those two cities. Huntsville gives its school system $20 million. Birmingham with the $426 million gives our school system $1.8 million.
Education is not a priority to this current administration. With all the issues in Birmingham, with poverty, crime, lack of jobs, it’s all rooted in making education a priority.