2021 Birmingham City Election

Woodfin Points to ‘Progress and Rebirth’ as Reasons Voters Should Reelect Him Mayor

Mayor Randall Woodfin has a simple request for Birmingham: “Stick with me.”

Woodfin’s first term as mayor has been a tumultuous one, plagued by a surge of gun violence, a national reckoning against police brutality that spilled over into Birmingham streets last year, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which destabilized city finances and precipitated short-lived but painful cutbacks to swaths of the city’s budget.

But Woodfin insists that he’s “taken advantage of trying to move with a sense of urgency to address and solve every issue that exists on behalf of the citizens in this community,” arguing that his first four years in office have yielded significant examples of “progress and rebirth” in Birmingham.

With his new campaign platform, “Vision 2025,” Woodfin has sketched out a second-term plan that mostly expands on the major initiatives of his first, with heavy focus on education, crime prevention, economic development and neighborhood revitalization.


Perhaps the signature item of Woodfin’s first term was the Birmingham Promise initiative, which provides Birmingham City Schools students with apprenticeship opportunities and last-dollar scholarships to public colleges and universities within the state.

Birmingham Promise has been the subject of controversy — most notably because it was funded with $2 million in city dollars previously allocated to the Birmingham City School system — but Woodfin plans to expand the program to include paid internships at Birmingham businesses.

He also plans to launch a new program called “Thrive By Five,” based on a pre-K initiative launched by Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Thrive By Five would include a yearly maternal and infant health summit and a “centralized space to bring together the city’s wide range of resources” to help new mothers and young children.

Economic Development

One end goal of these educational programs is to build up the city’s skilled workforce, though attrition to other cities remains a significant obstacle. To combat this “brain drain,” Woodfin has set the second-term goal of creating a “former pipeline partnership” between Alabama’s historically black colleges and universities and Birmingham’s corporate community “to keep Alabama’s homegrown. diverse, Black talent” in the city.

Similarly, Woodfin has vowed to develop a “Diverse Business Opportunity Program” that will have spent $100 million with minority and women-owned businesses by the end of his second term. He also hopes to establish a revolving loan fund with the federal government’s Economic Development Administration for local small businesses, with a focus on those that are minority-owned.

Woodfin spent much of his first term cultivating the city’s tech sector, with millions in incentives going to grocery delivery company Shipt — which, in turn, has donated $12,000 to Woodfin’s reelection bid — and the introduction of new tech businesses such as DC BLOX to Birmingham. His campaign platform promises to expand this focus, with plans to allocate “significant investments of federal research and development funding into Birmingham’s tech sector to firmly establish Birmingham as the Deep South’s emerging tech hub.”


Less prominent in Woodfin’s “progress together” rhetoric is the rising level of gun violence in Birmingham, a surge that’s led to the city’s highest homicide rate in decades. It’s a problem Woodfin and Police Chief Patrick D. Smith have attributed to various factors, including an influx of illegal firearms to the city, as well as the havoc wreaked on the city’s criminal justice system by COVID-19.

Woodfin has vowed to “further refine and implement” his Peace Strategy, a public health-oriented program emphasizing crime prevention and re-entry programs for incarcerated individuals. That would involve improving the city’s mental health infrastructure and supporting other, non-law enforcement preventative approaches.

But the nationwide protests against police brutality last year have also compelled Woodfin to focus on “equitable” public safety measures, such as the recently established Civilian Review Board designed to investigate claims of police misconduct. Woodfin also has vowed as part of his campaign platform to expedite public access to police body and dash-cam footage and to continue to disallow facial recognition technology — which often unfairly discriminates against people of color — from the city’s nascent real-time crime center.

Woodfin also has promised to increase his recent Pardons for Progress initiative, which cleared more than 15,000 residents of prior misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions, and to “de-emphasize” such cases moving forward so that they no longer go before municipal courts.

Neighborhood Revitalization

But Woodfin’s top stated priority is the same as it was during his 2017 campaign: revitalizing each of the city’s 99 neighborhoods. For the most part, that’s taken the form of infrastructure improvements. Under Woodfin’s administration, the city’s public works department has repaved thousands of miles of road and 600 blocks of sidewalk and demolished roughly 1,300 blighted structures.

“In three years, you can’t get to every block,” Woodfin said at his campaign launch event in February. “You can’t get to every street. But we’ve started, and we’ve made progress.”

Many of the blighted structures demolished over the past four years were abandoned houses in residential areas, but there are larger holes in the city skyline that Woodfin claims as “symbols of progress and rebirth in our great city.” Long-abandoned buildings such as the Ramsay-McCormack high-rise in Ensley and the former Carraway Hospital in Druid Hills have either been demolished or are scheduled for demolition later this year. Both of those properties are being reimagined as mixed-use developments that will revitalize their respective communities.

Woodfin has cited the case of Sherman Industries — a concrete company that was rebuffed from building a concrete batch plant in the Five Points West community in 2019 — as an example of his commitment to environmental justice. He’s pledged to take that commitment further in his second term, creating a new Office of Sustainability to focus on environmental justice, housing remediation, green infrastructure planning and workforce development.

He’s also pledged to offer targeted buyouts and relocation plans for North Birmingham residents whose properties have been heavily affected by industrial pollution and to convene “national and local trial lawyers to develop a justice strategy” for North Birmingham residents who have been victims of air pollution.

Though Woodfin has been largely unsuccessful in bringing larger grocery store chains to the city’s many food deserts, his proposed Office of Sustainability will focus on food access and food policy. Woodfin also plans to expand the city’s healthy food fund, which will be used to incentivize smaller grocers and other healthy food providers to set up shop in Birmingham’s underserved neighborhoods.

“These Aren’t Things You Can Do Overnight”

A June poll conducted by the Birmingham Times showed Woodfin with an estimated 52% of the vote. That margin would prevent a runoff election and mean an outright victory over his closest two opponents, Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales and former Mayor William Bell, whom Woodfin defeated in 2017.

But Woodfin has been plagued by several controversies in the past year — notably regarding his COVID-19 budgeting cutbacks, which caused many city employees to be furloughed and several city institutions, including libraries and recreation centers, to be temporarily shuttered. Some opponents, such as Bell, have decried Woodfin’s promises from 2017 as empty or unfulfilled.

Despite these setbacks, Woodfin, hopes that Birmingham stays the course. “These aren’t things you can do overnight, especially when you have an economic crisis and a global health pandemic in the middle of a term,” he told CBS42 earlier this month. “You need more time to continue the things you started.”