I grew up in the Grasselli neighborhood in west Birmingham in the 1960’s and with young eyes witnessed the Civil Rights struggle when my family came downtown to shop. As I grew up I saw the struggles our city faced as we emerged through that dark time and as a young man had high hopes that I would see Birmingham take a leading role in seeing Dr. King’s dream of racial equality come true in my lifetime.
As Birmingham elected an African-American Mayor and a majority of the City Council, I thought my hopes would actually happen. Alas, forty years later, that change has not happened. Our current Mayor touts the progress the city has seen in recent years and there is no denying that great changes have taken place. We see developments like Railroad Park and Regions Park, along with all developments around them. These, along with the other revitalization going on throughout downtown and some other areas is great, but stop and look at what is fueling that and what it means for our city.
The mayor is quick to take credit, but much the development is spurred by business people seeing opportunity and being willing to invest. It seems to me that, if anything, the city government, has hindered much of the progress with the constant in-fighting and failure to have a plan. And, once you leave the downtown area, what do you see? Not much. This development has brought in hundreds of new residents and new businesses. Where is the tax dollars generated from this going?
Birmingham has 99 designated neighborhoods and most seem totally neglected by City Hall. This has to change, but we don’t need another four years of people talking about it and doing nothing. We have had decades of TALK. In the last few weeks, it seems that every council person and the mayor are touting all that they have accomplished, but I don’t see it. We need a change.
As I carefully considered who would get my vote, I studied what each candidate stood for and what they had to say. I have actually spoken to several. Most seem to be genuine in their quest to make our city better, but mostly what I hear and read from them sounds very similar to the rhetoric I hear from our current mayor – MORE TALK. One exception stands out – Randall Woodfin. This young man not only has a genuine love for our city, he has a plan to make it better, rather than just talking about it. I want to emphasize the three topics that I think are the most important and I feel that Randall is the only candidate that has put forth a solid plan to address each.
1. Education - Birmingham has the resources and tax base and SHOULD have the best public schools in the state, but that is far from the case. The schools system is woefully underfunded, and like our city government, is bogged down with politics. Randall has the experience and a plan to correct these issues and more. Having a solid school system enhances everything about Birmingham, Having a great school system attracts jobs and new business. It makes families want to move here and work here. Our children need the best education we can provide and that will also lead to improvements in my other topics – Economic Development and Crime.
2. Crime – I spent the first 15 years of my adult life as a Police Officer, so I have some experience in this topic. Our Police Department currently is shorthanded and has been for years. When I became a Police Officer in the late seventies, there were more than 3,000 taking the civil service exam with me vying for about 100 or so positions with the law enforcement departments in Jefferson County. Now our police department operates understaffed and is constantly trying to recruit officers. There are many reasons for the understaffing, but a main one is the pay for Birmingham Officers cannot compete with suburban departments. If we want the best officers and to be fully staffed we have to pay them. Getting fully staffed is only one way to address the crime in Birmingham. The real problem is tied to both Economic Development and Education. Poorly educated children rarely grow up to be productive citizens. Our crime rate and the murders we see occurring too often in our city starts with educating our children and giving them a shot at more than a life on the streets. Along with this is giving our older children, teenagers and young adults an opportunity to gain job skills that lead to a productive life.
3. Economic Development - While we see a lot of cranes and progress in our city center, we could see more with the proper involvement from city hall. And, we would see more of the construction and business development aimed at those who need it most – our own citizens. With the proper programs in place, the city should be investing in entrepreneurship opportunities for our young people. With a proper education and programs to help foster them, we could see much more developments not only in Downtown, but throughout the city.
Randall Woodfin has a plan make all this happen and even more. Other candidates talk rhetoric and make big promises but we have been listening to that for decades now and I hope that you, like me are tired of it. It is time for a change for Birmingham and Randall Woodfin can lead that change.