I’m impressed with Birmingham’s new Mayor–Randall Woodfin.
His first few months in office have been a whirlwind of positive energy.
He’s surrounded himself with good people, sought feedback from anyone who will talk to him, and slowly and methodically identified and prioritized Birmingham’s problems and opportunities.
Heck, he’s even proposed legislation establishing term limits for himself and the mayor’s office.
Then he had the spunk and moxie to jump out of a perfectly good airplane at 10,000 feet during Navy week.
Jumping from a plane might seem crazy, but there’s something else he’s done that might be even crazier.
He ran for the office of mayor of Birmingham–and with a lot of hard work and smarts–actually won.
Fixing Birmingham is not for the faint of heart
According to Woodfin’s own Transition Report “Birmingham’s economic and population growth has been anemic compared to our peer cities…Fully 30% of Birmingham and nearly 42% of women and families are living in poverty.”
WalletHub ranked the 182 largest cities in the U.S. for finding a job and Birmingham came in 178th.
The city of Birmingham is suffering from decaying neighborhoods, high levels of crime, a poor educational system, and inadequate public transportation.
Woodfin forced to go it alone
I’ve heard Mayor Woodfin speak several times since he was elected.
Often his audience is people who don’t live in the city of Birmingham–which is not unusual since less than one in three people in Jefferson County’s actually live in the city of Birmingham; and less than one in five metro Birmingham residents reside in the city.
I hear folks from the suburbs ask pointed questions…
“Mayor Woodfin, how are you going to deal with crime?”
“What are you going to do about public education?”
“How are you going to get along with the City Council?
It would be disingenuous to criticize people who don’t live in the city since I live in Vestavia Hills–but I want to make a point.
How can those of us who don’t live in Birmingham have high expectations of Mayor Woodfin when we are going to get in our cars after his talk and drive to our bedroom communities–and none of our bedroom communities are going to support Birmingham financially or in any other way?
Mayor Woodfin’s dilemma
Mayor Woodfin won election based on promises he made to Birmingham citizens that he would redevelop neighborhoods, improve public education, and reduce crime.
But he has responsibilities to our broader community.
Woodfin was elected the mayor of Birmingham–not the mayor of our region. So who should he serve?
Birmingham funds millions of dollars for amenities enjoyed by our entire region– such as our airport, Museum of Art, and Birmingham Zoo—and recently committed $90 million for the proposed football stadium at the Civic Center. This is money that could be used to hire more police or educate Birmingham children.
The solution is not to combine cities
It’s not practical to combine our Jefferson County cities, but we should urge Jefferson County mayors to proactively work together.
We are competing with cities like Nashville which has county-city government. That means that Nashville has one mayor. We have 35.
I attended a breakfast panel discussion of six Jefferson County mayors sponsored by the Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ) at the Harbert Center last month. If all of our mayors had attended, they would have needed six tables.
Our region must find a way to work together as a team, or we are the crazy ones–not the mayor.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org