One week from today, Randall Woodfin takes office as Birmingham’s 30th mayor. His rise to the big office on third floor of City Hall is a move Woodfin has calculated for years, even though he’s just 36. During the campaign, Woodfin projected confidence in debates and political ads.
But his style is not exactly typical for a political leader. Picture this: it’s the Magic City Classic, a few weeks back. At halftime in Legion Field, three long-term Birmingham mayors and the incoming mayor stand side by side making presentations. Thousands watch from the stands.
Bernard Kincaid is dapper in his blazer and matching fedora. Richard Arrington is there in a V-neck sweater and topcoat, and Mayor William Bell wears leather.
Then there’s the incoming mayor, Randall Woodfin, dressed in sneakers, faded jeans and a hoodie.
It’s a prime example of how Birmingham’s millennial mayor moves to a different beat.
From the time he was a child, Randall Woodfin has dreamed of leading this city. Ryan Wilson has known Woodfin more than 20 years. He says Woodfin used to talk about it when the two played at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church.
When Woodfin announced his candidacy, “my mind immediately went back to that moment when we were kids and he said one day he wanted to run for mayor,” says Wilson. He and Woodfin went on to become lawyers. Wilson was part of the corps of volunteers that helped fuel Woodfin’s campaign.
Wilson says he is is not surprised by his friend’s success, but he says Woodfin will have challenges.
“With him being young, I think there is a perception of him not being qualified or prepared,” Wilson says. ”He will have to overcome that mentality.”
Woodfin’s political career started when he was 28. He ran for school board, spent about $30,000 on the race, and came in third.
His second attempt was more successful. Not only did he win a seat on the school board, he became board president – a post he held for two years.
That’s where he had his first test of political leadership. The board persuaded Birmingham voters to support a property tax increase for schools. It also hired and fired a superintendent after about a year on the job – a move Woodfin fought.
April Williams served with Woodfin on the school board. She says he had a plan from day one.
When he came on the board, he already had a solid five people committed to supporting him as president and most of the initiatives he favored.
Williams says Woodfin inspires people to follow him, but he didn’t always get the support of the full board.
“He lacked the interests of pulling all nine board members in, and that’s critical in the success of any team,” she says.
But Woodfin will ultimately be successful because he works hard and perseveres, Williams says. Those are qualities Woodfin’s mom, Cynthia Woodfin Kellum, has witnessed in her son all his life. When he was a teenager, he won a statewide grocery-bagging contest.
“They put you on a timer. You put the groceries in and you have to make sure you don’t break the eggs or get too heavy things on top, and you have to do it in a timely manner,” Woodfin-Kellum says.
Two decades later, she’s still a proud mother.
“I was 29 years old when I had Randall, and I’m still 29 years older than him now,” she says. “So even though he’s 36 — an adult, grown, wise young man, and he’s capable of running this city ,he’s still my boy.”