By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Randall Lee Woodfin on Tuesday took the oath for the second time as Birmingham mayor with a nod to the city’s historic past but an invitation for citizens to help shape the future.
The city’s 30th mayor was sworn in by Jefferson County District Judge Ruby Davis on a sunny but chilly day in downtown Birmingham’s Linn Park before an audience of all nine city councilors, former mayors William Bell, Richard Arrington Jr and Bernard Kincaid, in addition to U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell and former Alabama Senator Doug Jones, among many other Birmingham-area residents and leaders.
The inauguration lasted just over an hour, starting at noon and ending at 1:02 p.m.
Just after he was sworn in, Woodfin said citizens are reminded of the city’s history every day. “We can and we must continue to learn from our history — and to do what we can to ensure that the world continues to learn from it,” he said, adding that to secure Birmingham’s future — “a future of greater opportunity, a future of greater prosperity . . . everyone who calls Birmingham home” must do their part.
“Think of us as a symphony,” he said. “Think of the beautiful sound that results when a collection of instruments joins in common purpose — when all are playing from the same page, with the same objective.”
“That is how we make Birmingham great. By working together in the understanding that, in the end, everybody, our greatness will be determined as well as measured by the extent to which we…continue to work together, creating neighborhoods that thrive for all, strengthening our communities. That’s the way we make lives better in this community . . . We can achieve greatness. Together, but only together.”
While residents have the right to certain expectations from the city’s government, citizens also have certain obligations, he said. “Obligations to yourself and your family. You have obligations to your neighbors and your friends. You have obligations to the city you call home,” he said.
“. . . Each of us has the obligation to take pride in our city, to assume co-responsibility. . . for contributing to its maintenance as well as its upkeep; each of us is obligated to be a good neighbor that is an active participant in keeping Birmingham clean and keeping our community healthy as well as in keeping our community safe. . . Each of us is obligated to contribute, in any way we can, in any way possible, to make sure Birmingham’s diverse web of talent as well as skill and belief and aspiration comes to fruition.”
Birmingham residents in attendance said they agreed with Woodfin’s calls for community involvement. Aushanada Williams, who’s lived in Birmingham for 10 years, said it takes everyone to make change.
“If you don’t have buy-in from everyone, then things possibly won’t work, so getting everybody engaged can only make the city better,” she said. “I like that [Woodfin is] including everyone.”
Malcolm Lockett pointed to changes being made in the city. “You got the new stadium downtown. [Woodfin] is revamping the city, getting businesses to Birmingham. . . Birmingham’s getting noticed again, back on the map . . ..” Lockett said.
The pre-inauguration festivities began at 11 a.m. with guests that included Pastor Mike McClure Jr. of The Rock City Church; Pastor Thomas Beavers of New Rising Star Church; singer Yung Vokalz; singer Sharron Collins; poet Karima Moor; Miles College Choir; Putnam Middle School Band and DJ Slim Robb.
Ahead of the inauguration during a 35-minute interview with the Birmingham Times at City Hall, Woodfin described democracy as “a participatory sport, and what you want to see happen in your community doesn’t depend on City Hall alone, that we’re all in this together,” he said. “Mayor, council, school board, neighborhood officers, faith leaders, business leaders, small business owners, average everyday citizens, all of us collectively are in this together.”
On Aug. 24, Woodfin avoided a runoff and won his second term as mayor with 64 percent of the vote, beating seven other candidates, including Bell and County Commissioner Lashunda Scales.
Since then, Woodfin has remained busy fulfilling some of his campaign pledges including the launch of a $3 million Real-Time Crime Center Oct. 19.
The mayor has also maintained his national profile which began after he was first elected in 2017 and has only grown. This month, Woodfin was in Washington, D.C., having been invited to President Joe Biden’s signing of his $1 trillion infrastructure package, a “once-in-a-generation investment,” Woodfin said of the bill.
In the Birmingham Times interview, Woodfin said he’s pleased with the city’s progress but there’s still plenty to do, including better constituent services.
“Respond to people within 24 hours. Call, text, email, but respond,” the mayor said. “Even if you have to say ‘no’, say ‘no’, but say it. . . That’s literally the bare minimum: responding to our citizens. Do not leave people cold. Do not leave people hanging.”
Woodfin said he wants to improve all interactions between city employees and residents, in every fire station, municipal court, jail, library or rec center. “It’s their space,” Woodfin said.
“We have to be welcoming. We have to be kind. We have to be courteous. We have to be considerate. We have to be professional,” the mayor said. “They have a right to be upset, they have a right to be pissed, they have a right to be angry, happy. Whatever their emotion is, we need to be consistent in how we respond to our citizens.”
Ahead of the Tuesday Nov. 23 inauguration Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin spoke on several topics during a 35-minute interview at City Hall with The Times. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation.
“During COVID, gun violence was still a public health crisis, and as COVID subsides and leaves the globe, leaves America, leaves the state of Alabama, the county and Birmingham, gun violence will still be the number one public health crisis. As far as I’m concerned, public health crises, they don’t just evaporate.”
“The city can’t solve it alone, but I’m not placing blame, but I will be encouraging everyone to do their part as far as how we engage as a community, collectively…To be totally honest with you, we all need to be drug dealers, but the drug I’m referring to is hope. Our young boys need hope, exposure and opportunity for them to make better choices with their lives.”
As part of his push to deal “hope,” Woodfin said he will move for the City Council to approve $3 million, out of the American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief funds, for conflict resolution and violence interrupter programs.
The Birmingham Promise
“This is not charity work but workforce development, even though it can be more beneficial than other jobs for teenagers. Go to a restaurant right now, people don’t have workers. Everybody else has adjusted, except the small business owner. A lot of them say they can’t afford it, but nobody’s coming back to $7 wages . . . We pay young people $15 an hour through the Birmingham Promise, [which provides funds for college tuition and work experience for city students].”
“Vision has been a part of Birmingham’s progress. Never deviate from vision. I think ambition should always be balanced with vision and purpose. I think we have a purpose in serving and continuing to serve. I had no clue we would win every precinct in [2021 municipal elections], but as I reflect on that, people will at least appreciate the direction. . . [Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle] had a vision for growth in his city and laid it out . . . That vision was around economic growth, economic identity of Huntsville. They executed, they attracted jobs. What is our economic identity around? Health care, logistics, technology. That’s where we need to go.”