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Woodfin, Challengers Have Spoken. Now It’s Up to Birmingham Voters

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By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

Incumbent Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin will face seven challengers on Tuesday, August 24, in the city’s mayoral election; candidates for City Council and Birmingham Board of Education are also on the ballot. The polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

A candidate must receive 50.1 percent of the vote before being declared the winner. In races for which no candidate reaches that threshold, a runoff election will be held on October 5.

Running against the incumbent mayor are former Birmingham Mayor William Bell; entrepreneur and mental health advocate Cerissa Brown; Birmingham resident Napoleon Gonzalez; business owner Philemon Hill II, Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales, activist Darryl Williams; and businessman Chris Woods.

Here are bios on each candidate. 

WOODFIN 

Woodfin, who was first elected in 2017 and is seeking a second term, said the city is in better shape since his election to the mayor’s office.

“Four years ago, I inherited a city struggling from years of disinvestment,” Woodfin said in a Facebook post. “I promised to make progress for all 99 neighborhoods, and—even through the challenges of COVID-19—that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

Woodfin also said, “the work is not over,” and he plans continue the city’s progress.

“We’ve got a whole lot more blocks, a whole lot more streets in all of these neighborhoods to repair, to bring back to life, to make sure our citizens have the quality of life they deserve. I’m running for re-election to finish and to continue what we started,” Woodfin said, as reported by the Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ).

Woodfin has lived his entire life in Birmingham, outside of his four years at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to being elected mayor, Woodfin served Birmingham as Board of Education president, a position he held from 2013 to 2015. He also served as an assistant attorney for the city beginning in 2009 up until his run for mayor.

Age: 40

Residence: Central City

Political experience: Mayor of Birmingham, 2017-present; member, Birmingham Board of Education, 2013-17; president, Birmingham Board of Education, 2013-15

Professional experience: Mayor of Birmingham, 2017-present; assistant city attorney, city of Birmingham, 2009-17

Civic experience: Former board member, Alabama Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy; former board member, Birmingham Botanical Gardens; former board member, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama; former board member, Birmingham Change Fund; former board member, American Red Cross; former board member, Birmingham Education Foundation; former board member, Birmingham Cultural Alliance; former board member, Start the Adventure in Reading; former president, Birmingham Chapter of the Morehouse College Alumni Association; Leadership Alabama, 2016; featured speaker, TEDx Birmingham, 2017; Alabama state director, Hillary for America, 2016

Education: Juris doctor, Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, 2007; Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Morehouse College, 2003

Significant endorsements: President Joe Biden, U.S Senator Cory Booker, U.S. Senator Doug Jones, former Georgia House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams, former OH State Sen. Nina Turner, the Human Rights Campaign, former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, AL State Rep. Rolanda Hollis, Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson, City Councilor Hunter Williams, Jefferson County Chapter of the Alabama New South Alliance, Jefferson County Citizen’s Coalition, Jefferson County Democratic Progressive Council, Birmingham Association of Realtors, Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders, Alabama College Democrats, Alabama High School Democrats, Central Alabama Labor Federation AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America and others.

Top contributors: North Alabama PAC, $50,000; Sheree Acheson, $50,000; Marcel Dareus, $25,000; Margaret Elizabeth Hemberg, $25,000; Landon Ash, $25,000 

Main Issues: “Four years ago, I inherited a city struggling under the weight of blighted structures, crumbling infrastructure, vast food deserts, and stagnant growth. Since taking office, I’ve torn down thousands of abandoned buildings, repaved thousands of miles of roads, filled potholes in every neighborhood, fought to bring in new grocery stores and prepared over a thousand students to attend college tuition-free through Birmingham Promise. But many of these issues have persisted for decades — we need more than four years to fix them. In my next term, I’ll continue this growth by building more affordable housing, investing in early childhood development, working to rectify the impacts of environmental racism, spending at least $100 million with minority and women-owned businesses, continuing to reduce violent crime and turn the tide on gun violence. These goals and more are laid out on my website at randallwoodfin.com/Vision2025.”

Campaign: randallwoodfin.com

BELL

Bell, who served as Birmingham’s mayor from 2010 to 2017, said the city has been heading in the wrong direction since Woodfin was elected.

“Four years of ineptitude and mismanagement have our city hurting and adrift. People out of work, children out of school, families losing homes, and, more importantly, loved ones, record rates of murder and violence in our neighborhoods, chaos in city government, and our finances in a mess,” Bell said in a recent campaign ad.

Bell said his past work as mayor shows he can improve the city’s economic situation.

“Look at the growth we had during that period of time I served as mayor in the past and know that the same skill set I had then still exists within my framework of where we can take this city,” Bell said, as reported in the BBJ. “I will do all I can to continue to make Birmingham the linchpin of [Alabama’s] financial economy.”

What Birmingham needs is a mayor who is able to fix problems, Bell said: “We need a proven leader with a solid record of delivering results to help Birmingham thrive again.”

Age: 72

Residence: College Hills

Political experience: Mayor of Birmingham, 2010-17; president pro tempore, Jefferson County Commission, 2008-10; member, Birmingham City Council, 1979-2001 and council president, 1985-93, 1997-2001

Professional experience: Business consultant, 1989-present; probation officer, Jefferson County, 1969-74; salesman, Xerox, 1974-79; assistant to the vice president, UAB, 1979-89

Civic experience: Member, Climate Reality Leadership; board member, U.S. International Committee on Monuments and Historical Sites; U.S. representative to Habitat III, 2016; U.S. representative at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights; U.S. representative to signing of Paris Climate Accord; U.S. representative for WWII Commemoration in Normandy, France

Education: Doctor of Jurisprudence, Miles College School of Law, 1981; M.A. in counseling and psychology, UAB, 1974; B.A. in psychology, UAB, 1972; A.B. degree, Gadsden State Community College; John Carroll Catholic High School, 1967

Top contributors: David Shelby, $20,000; Triangle Partners LLC, $15,000; United PAC, $7,000

Main Issues: Crime and public safety, neighborhoods, education, jobs, environment, economic development, infrastructure

Campaign: bellforbirmingham.com

SCALES 

Scales, president pro-tem and District 1 representative on the Jefferson County Commission, said Birmingham’s potential is immense.

“I want Birmingham to be known as a city of unlimited opportunities, where we’re not based upon our ZIP codes, between the haves and have-nots,” she said in a campaign ad.

Scales told birminghamwatch.org that she wants to see the relationship between the mayor and city improve in regard to projects, policy changes, and issues facing the city.

“There needs to be a conversation that is had intentionally with the legislative branch of government, which is the Birmingham City Council,” she said. “No city can be progressive if the mayor and the City Council are not deliberate in making sure that … both branches of government are not only in constant communication with one another but are willing to sit down together to make sure that, as much as possible, we are addressing issues on the front end and not the opposite.”

Prior to being elected to the County Commission in 2018, Scales had served as a Birmingham City Councilor since 2009. Scales is also a public relations professional who started Scales Public Relations and Marketing in 2000.

Age: 50

Residence: Huffman

Political experience: Ran for the Birmingham City Council in 2005, losing to Joel Montgomery in a runoff. Finished second in the primary to incumbent Oliver Robinson in a bid for Alabama House District 58 in 2006. Was elected District 1 representative to the City Council in November 2009 and served nearly 3 terms. Defeated George Bowman for District 1 seat on the Jefferson County Commission in 2018.

Professional experience: Owner, Scales PR Marketing Firm Inc., February 2000-present. Has worked for several other businesses, including some that are family owned and operated.

Civic experience: Partner In Education, Birmingham City Schools; former vice president, Echo Highlands Neighborhood Association; former board member, Family Involvement Program; former chair, Huffman High School FBLA marketing committee.

Education: Attended Stillman College; associate’s, Jefferson State; Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, 2015; Leadership Birmingham, 2016; Leadership Alabama XXXI, 2021-2022.

Significant endorsements: State Rep. John Rogers; former University of Alabama and NBA basketball player Buck Johnson.

Top contributors: Marion Collins, $17,920; Raymond & Paulette Brooks, $7,800, including $1,800 from Raymond Brooks; Shedrick Vance, $6,500; Ralph Sanders, $4,000; Win Pac-2018, $4,000.

Main Issues: Strengthen community policing. Establish a proactive police department and Internal Affairs Division that is fair and equitable. Strengthen the city’s partnership with federal, state and local law enforcement to proactively fight crime. Establish a third party independent community relations board to oversee statistical data reported to the general public and neighborhood associations. Fully restore the “Keep Birmingham Beautiful” program. Develop a citywide neighborhood revitalization plan. Enforce city codes on illegal dumping, overgrown lots and dilapidated residential and commercial properties. Partner with Birmingham City Schools to advance educational standards, resources and accountability. Work with local, state and federal economic development partners to champion Birmingham business interests and opportunities through matching grants, loans and other means.

Campaign: https://scalesbhm2021.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/ScalesForBHMMayor/

 WOODS

Woods, owner of Birmingham construction company C.W. Woods Contracting Services, said bringing people together is the way to solve the city’s problems.

“I believe that we come together with a vision that unites us and brings us together, regardless of our political party … to address public education, to address our rise in crime situations, to create honest, transparent government, and to create a work environment for people from all walks of life,” Woods said in a July forum held by the Birmingham Peacemakers at New Hope Baptist Church. “As your mayor, your voices will be heard.”

Prior to starting his construction business, Woods, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2017, was a professional football player. After playing at Auburn University, he first went to the Canadian Football League and later played two seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders and one season with the Denver Broncos.

Age: 59

Residence: Avondale

Political experience: Has not held political office but is making his third bid for mayor, having run in 1995 and 2017.

Professional experience: President and CEO of C.W. Woods Contracting, LLC.

Education: Auburn University, B.S. degree in industrial arts, 1990.

Significant endorsements: Federal Judge U.W. Clemon; Dr. James Andrews, orthopedic surgeon; Judge Houston Brown; Bishop Calvin Woods; the Rev. Peter Wren, senior bishop of Church in God in Christ; the Rev. O.L. Meadows, senior bishop of Alabama First Jurisdiction.

Top contributors: Alabama Development PAC, $32,000; Dr. James Andrews, $5,000; Christopher Travis, $5,000; Robin & Morton, $5,000; R.P. Wilkin, $5,000; Anthony Thomasino, $2,000.

Main Issues: Deliver services the citizens of Birmingham deserve on a routine basis. Battle crime. Value and support city employees. Consistently pick up and remove trash. Start a free pre-school program.

Campaignchriswoodsformayor.com

BROWN

Brown said she can listen to residents of the city better than other public servants.

“I’m tired of the career politicians running our city and not listening to us,” Brown said in a campaign ad. “As your neighbor, I can relate to you on a level that none of my opponents can. … It’s time to vote a neighbor as your mayor, a mayor that is a servant leader and a great listener, [a mayor that] cares for all 99 neighborhoods.”

Minority groups, in particular, are ignored in Birmingham, Brown said.

“I have a heart for all marginalized communities. That is the [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)]-plus; that’s the seniors, disabled, homeless,” Brown said, as reported by the BBJ. “Sadly, in Birmingham, with us being 74 percent Black, we are considered a marginalized community because we get overlooked so much by this current administration.”

Brown has worked for BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama and as a counselor for online mental health group the Peer Collective. 

Age: N/A

Residence: Birmingham

Political experience: First political race. She is the only mayoral candidate who has not previously run for office.

Professional experience: Entrepreneur, Call Center Customer Service with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama for more than 21 years

Civic experience: Director, Birmingham Chapter of the Little Black Dress Club for businesswomen; vocal advocate for mental health and for members of the local homeless population

Education: Cornell University

Significant endorsements: Future Generations PAC

Main Issues: Helping the homeless population, advocating for mental health, proper job training and networking for entrepreneurs or people looking for employment, turning empty schools into Birmingham Career Centers.

Campaign: www.cerissabrown.com/

WILLIAMS

Williams said previous administrations have neglected citywide infrastructure.

“If we’re going to fix Birmingham, we’ve got to start in the [other] 98 neighborhoods instead of [just] District 5, [downtown Birmingham]. If you go drive in the [downtown] Uptown district, compare that to Ensley. Everything should look like Uptown,” said Williams in a July forum held by the Birmingham Peacemakers at New Hope Baptist Church.

Darryl Williams did not respond to request for information from BirminghamWatch.org, and little information on him was publicly available.

HILL 

As mayor, businessman Philemon Hill II said he’ll change the Mayor-Council Act.

In 2016, the Alabama state legislature voted to change Birmingham’s Mayor-Council Act, giving the mayor more power in creating city departments and greater veto power.

“I’ll work with the new City Councilors in making sure there are checks and balances,” Hill II said in an August forum held by the Birmingham Peacemakers at New Hope Baptist Church. “The mayor should not have all the power, and the Council should have the power to check and balance what the mayor is doing. It’s the public’s money, not the mayor’s money.”

Birmingham has not made much progress in the last 60 years, because “we get so bogged down with politics that we forget about equality,” Hill II said in an August forum held by the Birmingham Peacemakers at New Hope Baptist Church. “This is a Civil Rights town, and not too much has changed in 60 years, so we need leadership that can unite the city.”

Age: 48

Residence: Birmingham

Political experience: Ran for Birmingham mayor in 2017, placed seventh.

Professional experience: Founder and executive director at Legacy Sports Junior Golf Association, 2011-present; founder, owner, president and general manager at Legacy Sports Management International, LLC, 2005-present; operations staff at PGA Tour, 2004; Pro Shop staff at American Golf Corporation, 2003-2004; executive director at Shower of Love Tour; owner and president at EPH Sports Warehouse, LLC; founder at Legacy Sports Junior Tennis Association; mechanical engineer at Southern Nuclear Company; mechanical engineer at Raytheon Systems Company.

Civic experience: Organizer, Magic City Diamond Classic, 2017; organizer, Magic City Hardwood Classic; organizer, Legacy Sports Business and Industry Academy’s Education Beyond the Classroom Initiative

Education: Clark Atlanta University, Master of Business Administration, marketing and finance, 2002-2004; Tuskegee University, Bachelor of science, mechanical engineering, 1990-1995; Arthur Harold Parker High School, 1986-1990; Ephesus Junior Academy.

Top contributors: None filed.

Main issues: On his Facebook page, Hill says that, if elected, he would push for more health, recreation and entertainment options for each of Birmingham’s nine districts; advocate for a museum in the Civil Rights District honoring African-American veterans; and develop a HBCU Sports Hall of Fame and Museum to complement the Magic City Classic football game. Hill also on his page opposes the council’s actions to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Campaign: https://www.facebook.com/e.philemon.hill

Gonzalez

Efforts to reach Gonzalez for comment to gather information were unsuccessful.

birminghamwatch.org compiled the experience, education, contributors and main issues for each candidate. For more local political coverage visit birminghamwatch.org

Updated at 2:15 p.m. on 8/19.2021 to clarify endorsements for Woodfin.