By Nick Patterson
For The Birmingham Times
On a bright sunny day on a stage with a gigantic American flag as a backdrop, Randall Woodfin took the oath of office to become the 30th mayor of the city of Birmingham and one of the youngest in its history.
Woodfin, 36, was sworn in by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Nakita Blocton before thousands of supporters in a standing room only crowd stretching back into downtown Birmingham’s Linn Park, and with two former mayors, Richard Arrington and Bernard Kincaid, as well as the nine members of the Birmingham City Council seated behind him.
Outgoing mayor William Bell was not present.
Flanked by banners listing the names of all 99 neighborhoods in the city, Woodfin’s first words to his constituents after taking the oath reflected the down-to-earth man of the people demeanor he demonstrated throughout the campaign. He said simply, “Hey, everybody.”
Woodfin, who defeated Bell in a fractious, bitter campaign that ended Oct. 3, was greeted with thunderous applause and repeated shouts of his name from the audience.
“I am so honored for this moment it is hard to put this moment into words as relates to this opportunity to serve my hometown,” said Woodfin, who outlined what has now become his signature push to work for improving the city through service, jobs, education, quality roads and fighting crime. “I am so proud and so eager to get to work,” he said.
The mayor said he had listened to the concerns of people across the city.
“Truthfully, this is not my inauguration This is our inauguration. What stands behind us is not just a building, it’s not just city hall, but it’s a symbol that reflects the voice of the people of all 23 communities and all 99 neighborhoods,” he said.
Woodfin repeatedly emphasized — once by bringing the entire council to the dais — that all members of city government were committed to work together for the betterment of the city. That pledge of cooperation, which also stood out in Council President Valerie Abbott’s speech earlier, was clearly meant to signal a change from the notably contentious relationship that existed between Bell and the council.
Quoting Ecclesiastes 4:10 lamenting the fate of one who falls without someone else to help him up, Woodfin said that “the Word is as clear today as it was in Solomon’s time that what we can do together far surpasses what any of us can do alone.”
Woodfin said city leaders would invest in employees and students. “We understand that the city of Birmingham is only as strong as its lowest quality of life neighborhood,” he said, pledging that he and all the council members would work to improve each area of the city.
Woodfin, who grew up in North Birmingham and attended Morehouse College, said he was “humbled” by the opportunity presented to him as mayor. And in what may have come as a surprise to some, given the tone of the campaign rhetoric between him and Bell, Woodfin said he had “much love, much respect, and much appreciation” for the former mayor. That line drew applause.
“William Bell has served this city and this community … since 1979. He is due credit, he is due honor, he is due respect and we are to appreciate him.”
Woodfin said he was committed to learning from those who came before, including Arrington, Kincaid, and the children of civil rights leaders Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King, Jr. with whom he had had recent conversations.
“Respect your history, know your history, learn your history, so you can know how to move forward,” he said.
Woodfin said he believed in God and people of Birmingham.
The new mayor emphasized his goal of making the city safer. “We all know that crime is a problem in this city,” he said, noting that children as young as 2 have been killed this year alone. “My heart is with every family who has lost a loved one to murder in this city … We have to do something not just to honor those innocent children who lost their lives, not just to the 90 plus victims of murder in our city, but to the hundreds of people who have been victims of other crimes. We have to better police our city.”
He called on citizens to take care of their neighbors and look for better days. “I stand before you today to let you know, I can show you better than I can tell you. It will be different.”
The inauguration, in a festive atmosphere featured two ministers, the band of Putnam Middle School, the choir of Parker High School, a call to action by award-winning journalist and political commentator Jeff Johnson, and a song by singer-songwriter Sebastian Cole.