Woodfin Shocked the Old Guard. Now What?

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Randall Woodfin takes office as mayor of Birmingham on Nov. 28, 2017.
Randall Woodfin takes office as mayor of Birmingham on Nov. 28, 2017.

In about three weeks, Randall Woodfin takes office as Birmingham’s next mayor. Woodfin worked for years as an attorney at City Hall. During his yearlong campaign for mayor, Woodfin shined a light on the city’s problems and sold most Birmingham voters on his ability to fix them.

Recently he spoke with WBHM’s Sherrel Wheeler Stewart about what’s next.

Disruptions

“We were a disruption to how government has functioned in this city. We were a disrupter to the old guard. It is not out of disrespect; it’s actually respect,” Woodfin says. “At the same time, we didn’t ask for permission. And so that frightens some people who are used to holding on to stuff. But what they’re holding on to is not working for our community — black or white, young or old.”

Business Support

Most Birmingham business leaders didn’t support Woodfin. He received some support from area lawyers, but a majority of his contributions came in small amounts from throughout Jefferson County and other parts of the country.

“We raised $566,000 from 4,000-plus donations,” Woodfin says. “The beauty of that is we are beholden to the people of this city.”

Birmingham gets about 67 percent of its revenue from businesses, and Woodfin says he realizes their importance.

Respect

At 36, Woodfin is the youngest person elected mayor of Birmingham in recent history. He says he will respect council members, and will look for the same in return.

“I’m willing to work with everybody,” he says. “You represent the same people I represent.”

Building Relationships With Council Members

The relationship between the outgoing mayor and city council was sometimes acrimonious. Woodfin says he hopes to have strong communication to help avoid those problems.  “You have to over-communicate —  text, phone, call, email, letters, lunch, dinner and breakfast,” Woodfin says. “And then we have to make sure we’re on the same page around vision, plans and priorities for the entire city, which includes things that are happening in their individual districts.”

Changing the Old Order

Woodfin says Birmingham’s political systems of the past are not what’s best for the city’s future, and a majority of voters agreed. “I just went up against the entire establishment. For the first time in your life, you saw every existing Democratic organization all come together for one ballot,” he says.  “Everybody supported William Bell. The truth is I respect and support the old guard, but I knew from the beginning they weren’t going to support me.”

Support From Young Voters and White Voters

The Woodfin campaign mapped out a path to victory that included emphasis on two groups their research showed had not fully supported Mayor William Bell in the past: young voters and white voters. At the same time, they realized that black women over the age of 55 had determined the outcome in every recent mayoral election, so they also needed attention.

City Money and Priorities

Woodfin has a chance to weigh in on the city’s budget. The council was supposed to pass a budget by July 1, but the outgoing mayor and council could not reach an agreement. The current council delayed voting until Woodfin takes office. Woodfin says he and his team are assessing the budget. Also a  more in-depth analysis will be done within the first 100 days of his administration.

Music Messages

Woodfin released a Spotify playlist to celebrate his victory on election night – not the usual first act of business for a mayor. But for him, there was a reason, Woodfin says.

“We brought out a little over 5,000 voters between the ages of 18 and 35,” he says. “I think it’s important, at a minimum, to meet people where they are. That cohort of voters enjoy their playlists.”

The list includes a theme song for Woodfin’s campaign – “Put On,” by Young Jeezy. The lyrics: “I put on for my city.”

 

 

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