Nov. 28, 2017 — “Truthfully, this is not my inauguration,” Randall Woodfin said shortly after he was sworn in as Birmingham’s 30th mayor. “This is our inauguration.”
That sentiment — that Woodfin’s administration will be a collective effort to improve the city — extended throughout most of the inauguration ceremony Tuesday afternoon. Before Woodfin took the oath of office, political commentator and motivational speaker Jeff Johnson urged attendees to ask themselves what they could do to improve the city. Singer-songwriter Sebastian Cole performed a cover version of John Legend’s “If You’re Out There,” a call-to-action anthem that quotes Gandhi’s “be the change you want to see.”
After Woodfin was sworn into office by Judge Nakita Blocton — with his mother, Cynthia Woodfin-Kellum, holding the bible — he, too, emphasized the importance of community collaboration. He cited the “grassroots movement we built from scratch” as having propelled him into office.
For much of his speech, Woodfin referred to himself and the nine members of the City Council as a unit, at one point calling them up to join him at the podium.
“The 10 of us collectively not only represent you, are dedicated to fighting for you, but wholeheartedly we believe in you,” he said to the audience. “None of us are an island. We understand that the city of Birmingham is only as strong as its lowest quality-of-life neighborhoods.”
Woodfin said that councilors from all the districts are responsible for each neighborhood, not just the councilor who directly represents the area.
“We have a job to do, Birmingham. Let the 10 of us together proclaim to you that we will work together to build a stronger city, a safer city, and more just city, not because it’s practical but because the 10 of us believe it’s the right thing to do.”
Learning From City Elders
Woodfin’s predecessor, William Bell, was notably absent from the ceremony. But Woodfin expressed his appreciation for the former mayor’s service — while also taking time to poke some fun at Bell.
“I have to give much love, much respect, and much appreciation for my predecessor, William Bell,” Woodfin said. “William Bell has served this city and this community in some form, shape, or capacity since 1979. He is due credit, he is due honor, he is due respect, and we … appreciate him.”
“And of course,” Woodfin added with a grin, “as he said at the Magic City Classic…” He trailed off, pointing a finger into the air — a clear reference to Bell’s statement that he and Woodfin would “take Birmingham to the (expletive) top.”
Those in the crowd who understood Woodfin’s reference laughed, but many more murmured in confusion. “OK, so it’s a PG-13 crowd,” Woodfin chuckled. “Let’s just say this: We’ll take it to the top.”
While Bell was not present at the ceremony, former mayors Richard Arrington and Bernard Kincaid were onstage, and both were recognized by Woodfin as sources of wisdom that he would consult throughout his tenure.
Of all the former mayors, though, the crowd cheered loudest when Woodfin mentioned in passing Larry Langford, who served as mayor from 2007 to 2009 before being convicted on charges of bribery and removed from office. Langford is currently serving a 15-year federal prison sentence, though he has been moved into a hospital due to his declining health.
“I want y’all to know that I’m a student first, I am a sponge second, and that I never take for granted the opportunity to learn,” Woodfin said. “There is so much to learn from these men…. Respect your history. Know your history. Learn your history, so you can know how to move forward.”
Fighting Crime, Poverty
As he did in an interview with BirminghamWatch on Monday, Woodfin emphasized his concern with crime in Birmingham, citing a high murder rate and three children who have died as a result of gun violence in the city this year.
“My heart is with every family who has lost a loved one to murder in our city. My prayers, my energy, my sympathy and my empathy — 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, and in better policing our city, it is going to take this entire community to feel empowered where you live, to make sure we are protecting our neighbors. We have had enough of violence in our city. And I stand before you today to let you know, I can show you better than I can tell you, it will be different.”
Woodfin added that Birmingham’s private sector, nonprofit community, faith-based community and philanthropic community all had a role to play in moving the city forward.
“The issues of fighting poverty and the issues of better access, affordable care, access to healthy food, infrastructure issues — we need everybody at the table, not just the mayor and the council.”
He also addressed city employees, saying he would “go to bat” for them as long as they “love this city back by making sure you commit to your job.”
“We will provide services in this city in a more efficient way, in a more effective way,” he added. “We will be 100 percent transparent. As adults, we will be accountable for our jobs, and we will do it with a customer service attitude. As the video stated, you want a mayor with a sense of urgency that puts people first. And you have that in me.”
“This ceremony marks a new beginning,” he said, “a new dedication within our city government, and a new spirit among all of us. A mayor may sense or even proclaim a new spirit, but truthfully, Birmingham, only you all can provide it.”