By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter
Well, it has been a long, long time since Birmingham residents have seen an election for city leadership like we saw this year.
And, really, that’s good news.
Better news, really, was that Birmingham voters found themselves in a rare and enviable position.
Both of the candidates for mayor were capable and encouraging. Both of the candidates for the Districts 2, 5 and 9 City Council seats were also capable and encouraging.
Birmingham voters, however, pretty much overwhelmingly went with the new vs. the old.
William Bell, mayor for seven-plus years, was soundly defeated by Randall Woodfin, a young – 36 years old – progressive who has new ideas for Birmingham. City Council President Johnathan Austin of District 5 was trounced by Darrell O’Quinn, whose win is notable because Austin is African-American, and O’Quinn is white. District 5 includes most of downtown Birmingham. Incumbent Kim Rafferty lost to Hunter Williams. And former longtime City Council member and president, Roderick Royal, lost a bid to return to the council to John Hilliard.
While most City Council incumbents were returned to office before Tuesday’s runoff, the changes on Tuesday will, hopefully, change the often bickering council. With Woodfin’s win, there’s also an opportunity for the new mayor and council to work more closely together than the council did with Bell.
Despite their sometimes contentious relationship, Birmingham has moved forward aggressively under Bell and the current council. Birmingham is often mentioned as an up-and-coming city. Lots of good stuff happened under Bell and the old council.
There’s no reason for the city’s residents to believe that this move forward will stall under the new council and mayor. Indeed, the new members of the council may be able to boost the city’s progress.
Birmingham is a hot contender for Amazon’s second corporate headquarters. The city’s revitalization has been given national attention by media all over the nation and world.
This is a good time to live in Birmingham.
Woodfin ran the kind of campaign a mayor should – he got out, knocked on doors all over the city and ran a tireless race. Bell ran a more low-key race and depended on the support from Birmingham’s businesses and elites.
But clearly, Birmingham voters were ready for change.
Bell would have continued to be a solid mayor. Woodfin is untested, sure, but he comes with the experience of having been president of the troubled Birmingham Board of Education. While many would say that experience didn’t help Woodfin – Birmingham’s schools remain some of the most troubled in the state – it certainly didn’t hurt him.
Woodfin has pledged that he’ll focus on continuing the revitalization of downtown Birmingham but will also work with the council to turn around the city’s most troubled neighborhoods.
Most important, Woodfin promises transparency in the city’s finances – almost always in a shadow under Bell – and reduce the bloated mayor’s office to redirect resources to the police department in a city that simply can’t shake its high-crime reputation.
That is all good news for Birmingham.
Fortunately for Birmingham, both the mayoral candidates accepted the voters’ decision with class.
“It is a mandate. People want change. I don’t think they want it for change’s sake,” Woodfin said. “As I have always said, people want to participate in progress. We have a city full of history, but what about the present and the future as well?”
Bell, who has been known to pout when results don’t go his way, was classy Tuesday night.
“The people of Birmingham have spoken. I’m good with that,” Bell told reporters. “When they decided 7 ½ years ago that William Bell should be their mayor, I was good with it. And now that they’ve chosen someone else, I’m good with that.”
Indeed, these are exciting times to live in Birmingham.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]