Credit: Bill Moore photo

At age 36, Birmingham, Ala. Mayor Randall Woodfin is one of the nation’s youngest Black mayors of a major city and a power player in Alabama politics.

As mayor of the state’s largest city, he was elected in 2017, beating older incumbent William A. Bell in a runoff. Woodfin, a Democrat, represents a new wave of young Black politicians taking the reins in the post-Obama political area as President Donald Trump leads the White House.

A Birmingham native, Woodfin said that he wanted to make his hometown better. He’s been involved in public service since graduating from the historically Black, all-male Morehouse College in 2003. His resume includes serving as president of the Birmingham City School Board and serving as assistant city attorney.

“Whether it’s been a lawyer for the city or serving on the City Council, working in the mayor’s office or the Board of Education, it’s always been about how to make home better,” he said. “The journey has been pretty consistent for the past 15 years.”

During his campaign for mayor he was told he was too young and that it “wasn’t his turn.” Mainstream news outlets referred to him merely as “the young school board member.”

“What I believed in the beginning before I announced I was going to run was that 2017 was a change election,” he said. “Part of it was looking at things the way they were two terms ago. If we gave the incumbent a third term, would things get better or worse? My thought process was that they were going to get worse. So I ran.”

Making home better for Woodfin means finding a solution to Birmingham’s current unwanted position as the third most violent city in the nation. During the first four days of February the city saw four murders. Just before Woodfin took office, the city saw a 10 percent increase in violent crimes in the past two years. This issue is his top priority.

“For the size of our city, crimes against persons and crimes against property is too high,” he said. “As a candidate walking the streets for years, what I found and what I saw and the complaints I heard were pretty consistent when it came to quality of life.”

Birmingham was known as an epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s. Its history includes the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 where four young girls were killed, along with other sit-ins and marches to defeat the Jim Crow South.

Today, the city’s population is almost three-quarters Black and part of what is known as the “New South.” The city’s population is growing, and the downtown area is becoming a hub with new condos, lofts, restaurants and culture. Woodfin said part of bringing the South forward is looking at how social justice is handled.

“When we move beyond policing, investing in education, neighborhood revitalization and our infrastructure, you have to move to a space of social justice,” he said. “For the ‘New South’ we know in these urban cores that these issues face the country. As a southern mayor, I have to be vocal.”

Birmingham is at the dawn of what history will call the “Woodfin era.” He said the legacy his administration wants to leave behind is simple.

“They took care of people,” he said. “They spent and allocated tax dollars in a way where they took care of people. They partnered with enough organizations where that they understood the importance of taking care of people.”