Table Talk with Mayor Woodfin

On the Last Day of Winter

Hannah Scofield

Barely over a year ago, it was impossible to leave campus without seeing corrugated plastic signs of Mayor William Bell’s last name painted in red, white, and blue. They were scattered on roadways, in front of tunnels and after bridges, hiding anywhere a driver’s thoughts might drift and directing them to the mayoral runoff on October 3rd, 2017. Unlike the incumbent, Randall Woodfin wasn’t called by his last name. This difference may have been a consequence of Woodfin’s younger age--after all, first-name familiarities are usually saved for friends and classmates, not for 36-year-old visionaries who ran a race against Birmingham’s established mayor of seven years.

Now, in the spring of 2019, times have shifted. When Woodfin came to speak at Birmingham-Southern College as part of the Black Table Talk speaker series hosted by the Black Student Union (BSU) on March 19th, he was no longer addressed as “Randall” but “Mayor Woodfin,” much like his predecessor.

Instead of milking his hierarchy, Woodfin was even more personable than when he spoke during his campaign at Birmingham-Southern in 2017. Rather than lecturing for the Birmingham-Southern event, Woodfin initiated conversation a quick introduction of his relationship with Birmingham-Southern that began as a child when his sister studied piano at Birmingham-Southern’s music conservatory. He then spent the next hour engaging in Q&A. He encouraged BSC community engagement throughout his discussion. President Daniel Coleman also addressed the need for the students of Birmingham-Southern to become active politically in Birmingham when he introduced Woodfin, both of whom call each other friends.

Woodfin’s decision to spend the common hour event in active discussion on BSC’s campus reminded me of his desire for community spirit when he campaigned in the fall of 2017. Bagheera Student Magazine was active in the mayoral race, primarily because our campus is often a political soapbox for politicians to share their ideas in a discussion-based climate in the heart of Birmingham. In addition to following Woodfin’s speaking events at Birmingham-Southern College, we also conducted a cellphone-interview with the then-mayoral candidate.

 “I’m a personable person,” laughed Woodfin on the phone. “So calling me ‘Randall’ doesn’t bother me at all. If anything, it’s warm.”

Arguably like all politicians, but perhaps even more so with Woodfin, the brick and mortar of Woodfin’s career are relationships. As early as his time at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA where he served his campus in SGA, Woodfin focused on community. His outlook continued at Cumberland Law School at Samford University where he earned his J.D.

 “My running for office really boils down to community service--being intentional about making the community better,” said Woodfin.

 Woodfin’s very decision to run for office came from “talking to folks.” He listened to their concerns about the city and their fears of neglect if Bell served another four years. He spoke to his family and community stakeholders until he realized that he could best benefit everyone as the Mayor of Birmingham.

 “There was nothing to lose because there were so many residents already losing,” explained Woodfin. “[I thought] if I could be in a position to help and share an articulated vision, then ‘let's go.’”

His campaign is followed his years of service on the Birmingham Board of Education. He ran for the position in 2009, and again in 2013 when he won. His passion stimulated from his childhood home where his parents were teachers and, as Woofin put it, “educational issues [were] always on the table.”

 “When your parents are educators, there is no sitting on the sidelines. This is about making things better for all the people that live in Birmingham,” he said.

 His background led him to several questions concerning the magic city’s increased crime rates and deteriorating neighborhoods. Solutions to these problems are in the four-point plan that he pitched during his campaign. As Woodfin explained it then, “[The plan] is centered around revitalization for all 99 neighborhoods, investing more in education, a public safety plan that makes people feel safe where they live and supporting small businesses in a more efficient way,” Woodfin explained.

 His campaigners shared his impressive vision, and he and his staff worked tirelessly to be in the position that rattled dusty Birmingham: a runoff with Mayor Bell.

Despite being one of the youngest city attorneys for the City of Birmingham at the time, and being one of the youngest school board members, Woodfin felt that his age proved only advantageous in community service. He said, “I don’t feel that age is anything new. The people that led the civil rights movement were in their thirties.”

Woodfin’s experience with Birmingham began from conception. He is part of the city, and wants to “participate in making it better.” Perhaps that now, even though Woodfin’s title has a bit more authority than it did then, community still insists on personability and civic engagement in the Birmingham Community.

 Almost a year ago, on the staticky phone interview conducted right next to the Attic at BSC, Woodfin expressed almost identically what he expressed before he conducted Q & A:

“I think Birmingham-Southern students have the power to be active, to play a role. Never let it be said that young people don't make a difference--they make the entire difference,” said Woodfin.

Some were not comfortable with Woodfin’s decision to lecture in Q & A format. One person I spoke to worried over Mayor Woodfin’s aversion to several questions asked. Nevertheless, despite political or personal opinions, no matter how grounded, it is still evident that Woodfin still emphasizes community and personability in his political career.

Special thanks to Birmingham-Southern College for the feature photo.