By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
Randall Woodfin, elected four years ago as Birmingham’s youngest mayor in more than a century, on Tuesday cruised to a second term with 64.33 percent of the vote in the 2021 municipal elections.
According to unofficial results, Woodfin won with 23,616 votes in a field of seven challengers that included Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales who finished second with 7,625 votes, 20.77 percent; former mayor William Bell, third with 3,354 votes, 9.14 percent and businessman Chris Woods with 1,562 votes, 4.26 percent. Four other candidates finished with less than 1 percent.
“Four years ago, I ran for mayor because I told each and every single person in this room, each person that’s viewing this, that we deserve better,” Woodfin, 40, said during his watch party at The Fennec in downtown Birmingham. “I told you all four years ago that we would put people first each and every single day, that’s what we’ve done.”
The incumbent mayor ran a local campaign from national playbook: he hired veterans from previous county and state-wide campaigns; garnered dozens of high-profile endorsements from President Joe Biden to former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington and raised tons of cash, more money (nearly $2 million) than any other mayoral candidate in the city’s history.
But he also ran an even stronger ground game this time around. Four years ago, Woodfin was one of 11 challengers trying to unseat an incumbent (Bell) and said he and his team knocked on 50,000 doors. This year, he and supporters knocked on 80,000 doors right up until Election Day, he said.
“I made a commitment to the citizens of Birmingham that we will invest in our neighborhoods, that we will invest in our people . . . I told the team whatever we did to get to the dance, we needed to do the same thing,” he said.
During exit polling conducted by The Birmingham Times voters overwhelming said they were pleased with the city’s direction.
“I see he’s made progress, and I really believe in allowing people to have at least two times to prove themselves, unless they have some kind of ridiculous scandal, and he has not had any of that,” said Kibibi Jones, who voted for Woodfin at the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church box.
Ernestine Jones, who also voted for Woodfin, said she was impressed by the mayor’s investment in her community.
“The particular block that I live on…I filed a complaint about an abandoned house. It has been demolished, although there are some other problems with sidewalks. I complained about people putting trash at the end of my block which is like a dead end. And they seem to have cleared that problem up with the regular garbage folks, or rubbish pick up people come and do that . . . So I’ve seen a lot of things like that.”
She added, “I believe people need a second chance . . . everybody but Trump.”
Even though eight candidates were in the race, polls showed that it was basically a field of three — Woodfin, Bell and Scales and the mayor ran like he couldn’t take any of his opponents for granted.
Scales fought to the end. She used her marketing skills to her advantage and put together a message that resonated with a number of voters. She also flooded the city with billboards and made the best use of forums and debates to reach voters.
“You were sowing into a vision that Birmingham should stand for better,” she told supporters during a watch party at Michaels in downtown Birmingham. “And regardless of the outcome. I’m going to continue to tell Birmingham, ‘you deserve better, we can have better.’”
Exiting polling showed that her message was appealing to some. At the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church polling site, resident Lee Woodruff said he voted for Scales because “I believe she deserves a chance . . . I believe Woodfin has done a great job. But I would like to see something different. Scales is something different. We have never had a woman for the city of Birmingham as a mayor. I think that would be a good thing to see . . . she seems about business and I think Birmingham needs that.
Bell, who finished a disappointing third, met with supporters at the Heritage Town Center at his campaign headquarters, and was magnanimous in defeat.
“I want to congratulate [Woodfin] to let him know that Birmingham is a great place it just needs encouragement for people to come and prosper and grow,” he said. “We all need to work together to solve our problems in the streets, violent crime, we need to work together to bring resources to the city so that we can grow the city as it needs to be…I want Birmingham to succeed regardless of who the mayor is and Mayor Woodfin…has our prayers and we look forward to whatever we can do to assist him and move the city forward.”
But the night belonged to the Birmingham native who went to Morehouse College, earned a law degree from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University and secured a spot as one of the Democratic Party’s young stars. He’s already spoken at the Democratic National Convention and is on the watch list for future leadership in the Party. He spent eight years as a city employee before running and winning mayor of Birmingham in 2017, when he defeated Bell in a runoff election.
Speaking to residents on Tuesday, he said, “You told us to invest in your neighborhoods, and we did…You told us to tear down this blight, and we did. You told us to invest in our youngest generation, and we did…And now Vision 2025 lays out, in detail, what we’re gonna do with your path, the next four years.”
Vision 2025 is an initiative Woodfin introduced this year that includes clearing empty lots, repaving roads, establishing new programming like Birmingham Promise scholarships and apprenticeships for students and expanding Pardons for Progress, and the Office of Peace and Policy under the Office of Social Justice and Racial Equity.
Birmingham City Council Results
In Birmingham City Council: In District 1, Clinton Woods ran unopposed; in District 2; Hunter Williams, easily won a second term with 69.5% of the vote; in District 3, Valerie Abbott, the council’s longest-serving member received 52.8% of the vote; in District 4, William Parker, Council President failed to get 50.1 percent of the vote needed to win outright and is headed to an Oct. 5 runoff against Woodlawn-based activist J.T. Moore. Parker received 41.9% to Moore’s 23.1%).
In District 5, Darrell O’Quinn was re-elected with 58 percent of the vote; in District 6 Crystal Smitherman was re-elected with 66.6%; in District 7, Wardine Alexander avoided a runoff with 52.9% of the vote; in District 8, real estate developer Carol Clarke won with 52% of the vote in a seat vacated by Steven Hoyt and in District 9, John Hilliard (49.2%) will face LaTonya Tate, (29.3%) in the Oct. 5 runoff.
Staff writers Ryan Michaels and Haley Wilson and freelancer Ameera Steward contributed to this post.