Ask the candidates: Q&A with Mayor Woodfin

Your Local Election HQ
October 02 2021 06:00 pm

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Mayor Randall Woodfin is answering questions ahead of the city’s elections on Tuesday, Aug. 24.

CBS 42 will be co-hosting a mayoral debate tonight, Aug. 17, in collaboration with other news outlets. The debate can be viewed on our website.

CBS 42 sent the same 10 questions to every mayoral candidate. Below are the questions we submitted (in bold) and the candidate’s answers. We have not edited their answers in any way. 

Answers to these questions submitted by all candidates who responded are available here.

What will be your top priority if you are elected mayor?

We are in a triple pandemic of three crises at the same time: COVID, gun violence, and inherited neighborhood blight. These crises require experience and vision — and I am the only candidate who has governed through a global pandemic. I led the charge so that we can get back to governing and solving core issues like neighborhood revitalization and gun violence.

I am also the only candidate who has released a comprehensive vision and policy for Birmingham’s future. My Vision 2025 plan builds on our continued progress before the pandemic, including reducing all non-gun categories of violent crime, tearing down over 1300 dilapidated structures and repaving thousands of miles of roads and sidewalks. We’ve removed over 5000 illegal guns from our streets since I’ve been mayor, but gun violence has become our next public health crisis. Vision 2025 will continue the progress we’ve made in addressing the root causes of gun violence. We will also announce soon our investments in our Office of Peace and Policy that will establish Birmingham’s first violence intervention program, our first community-based first responders pilot so that our BPD officers can focus their attention on our most violent offenders. After 44 months reversing 40 years of underinvestment — through a triple pandemic — we could not pave every road in the city, nor make every sidewall walkable nor remove every illegal gun or invest in every neighborhood park. This crisis means we need real leadership, with relevant experience, to continue our progress together.

Under my leadership, Birmingham remains the largest economic and urban center in the state.

We’ll continue to combat Brain Drain of our best and brightest through the Birmingham Promise, and develop Birmingham into even more of a destination city as we head into the World Games next summer.

Do you have any regrets in your professional career so far? If so, what did you learn from them?

In politics, you hear a lot about the importance of bipartisanship and unity. I still believe these are laudable values, but to a certain extent I do regret relying on unity with the state government when I first took office. In the four years I have been mayor, I have seen time and time again the barriers that the state government has erected against Birmingham’s growth. Whether it be the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, which levied a fine on the city after we chose to remove the Confederate statue in Linn Park, or politicized fights redirecting resources away from our school systems, I have learned to use my office as mayor to make progress together with the citizens of Birmingham. By removing the statue ourselves, creating the Birmingham Promise, or spearheading Bham Strong to weather the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have utilized the tools at my disposal to create a stronger Birmingham, even without unity or support from a hostile state-wide administration.

Cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations are on the rise across the state. If elected mayor, would you pledge to follow the advice of the city’s health officials regarding mask mandates, limiting large events, and restricting indoor dining?

Throughout the pandemic, we have always followed the science and the leadership of Jefferson County Department of Health, our local healthcare providers, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I will continue to monitor the situation and update our policies in line with national best practices and recommendations as needed. My largest priority is the continued physical safety of our citizens.

As mayor, what specific policies will you enact to improve the transparency of city government?

We’ll continue to do what we’ve done since 2017. We’ve made all travel and expenditures public. We launched our OpenData portal in 2018 to create easy access to city documents and expenditures. We’ve created our Academy for Civic Engagement or “ACE” where we provide free leadership training for our neighborhood leadership to better understand how they can engage city government. And we launched Birmingham’s first Civilian Review Board to ensure citizens are given an independent venue to voice concerns. In my next term, we’ll expand those policies of ensuring transparency by expediting public access for body and dash cam footage and continuing to support the Civilian Review Board in their work. City Hall wasn’t an open book when I took office in 2017, but it is now. We’ll continue to be open and transparent with City residents as we’ve been since taking office in 2017.

Since the protests following the death of George Floyd, many citizens have called for significant police reform. What specific policies will you enact to reform policing in Birmingham, if any?

Public safety needs to be reimagined, and Birmingham needs as many good law enforcement officers as possible. It’s not enough to have more police if we don’t change the way officers relate to their community, and Birmingham is a national leader in police oversight and accountability. The tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and far too many others forced every city in America to look inward, and we took action through our Public Safety Task Force. The Task Force produced a series of oversight and accountability reforms that we continue to see through. That includes prohibiting BPD from engaging in the kind of high-risk raids that killed Breonna Taylor, adopting model use of force standards and training, funding non-police responders to non-violent calls for services, establishing Birmingham’s first Community Review Board, and funding for an independent police monitor to oversee the implementation of the Task Force’s recommendations and ensure that BPD’s policies regarding training, discipline, use of force, and other policies remain aligned with best practices. Gun violence is on the rise in cities across America, and it’s not a problem we can arrest our way out of. We need real action on the state and federal level to implement the common-sense gun safety reforms that would allow us to confront this issue on the city level. I’m frustrated that our state and federal government have largely passed the buck on this issue and left those of us at the local level to deal with the consequences. This is a personal issue to me, as someone who has lost family members to gun violence, and I will continue to step up and do what I can to decrease gun violence in Birmingham through a holistic approach. With more prevention measures as well as reentry measures, we believe we can continue to tackle and decrease gun violence in the city.

How would you assess the current state of public transportation in Birmingham? If elected mayor what changes would you make?

We’re always looking for ways to help move Birmingham residents safely across the city and throughout the region, and we’ve made significant progress in the last four years. Our on-demand ride pilot that was launched in Fall 2019 has completed over 32,000 rides, enhancing on-time access to healthy food, healthcare and education.

Moving forward, I intend to leverage the Magic City Recovery Plan for a significant expansion of the City’s road resurfacing, sidewalk repair, and pothole-filling operations in 2021, connecting East and West Birmingham by completing the Birmingham Xpress by 2022, expanding our investment in our on-demand transportation service to continue to support our residents’ ability to travel safely and affordably throughout Birmingham, successfully securing federal RAISE grants to replace the 21st and 22nd Street Bridges, and making ongoing investments in maintaining and upgrading street lighting throughout the City.

The U.S. Congress is currently debating infrastructure legislation. What do you think is the most important infrastructure project needed in Birmingham right now?

I look forward to the funding the Biden Administration will provide, as well as the additional $25 Million I recently secured from the National Community Reinvestment Committee, to expand access to affordable housing in Birmingham. We’ve made tremendous progress building and renovating our existing affordable housing units, and my Vision 2025 plan lays out how we will cut our affordable housing needs in half over the next four years.

Additionally, Biden’s plan to ensure affordable access to broadband, and the Biden Administration’s $65 billion investment in our nation’s broadband infrastructure is one that I intend to fully leverage to make sure every Birmingham resident can connect easily and affordably to the internet. If the pandemic taught us nothing else, it is that broadband is no different than water, gas, or electricity in terms of being essential to how we live, work, and learn. Leveraging this once-in-a-lifetime federal investment in Birmingham’s broadband infrastructure is among my top priorities from the President’s infrastructure legislation.

Sometimes public officials need to take a moment to “get away” from the action and breathe. Where do you like to go when you need to take a break from the daily grind?

To take a break from the daily grind, I like to travel the city’s neighborhoods and have impromptu conversations with residents, particularly our seniors. My personal connections to the neighborhoods — reinforced by four years of knocking on doors and talking to residents in all 99 neighborhoods — has afforded me the opportunity to not only witness the growth occurring all throughout Birmingham, but has also provided me first-hand access to our residents, their

problems, and their concerns. Ultimately, no matter what part of town I have lived in, I have and will always remain committed to my roots and the backbone of our city – the 99 neighborhoods.

I currently live in Central City so I can be close to City Hall and walk or bike to work. But, with the exception of four years in Atlanta earning my degree from Morehouse College, I have lived in Birmingham all my life. My mother and my father both came from large families, so we were always visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in neighborhoods across Birmingham. Seeing as much of Birmingham as I did growing up gave me a deep sense of connection to the city and kinship with my fellow citizens. Being from Birmingham became and remains an integral part of who I am. Even when I left for college, I knew that I wanted to come back home to help build a better future for the city I love.

Do you support reducing police funding and moving money to other areas like mental health, poverty alleviation, or education?

I reject the false choice that we either fund our public safety agencies or fund areas like mental health, poverty alleviation, or education. I intend to do them all upon re-election, and Birmingham residents expect me to do it all. We have adequately funded our police department and our courts, as well as our Office of Social Justice and Racial Equity and I intend to continue to do so. As I noted in a previous response, we intend to invest in Birmingham’s first community-based first responders so that we can better respond to calls for services that involve our friends and neighbors with mental health challenges, and this past budget, we invested $1 million in Birmingham City Schools’ to meet the mental health challenges of our students. Our planned investments in affordable housing and economic development do so with an eye toward poverty alleviation, and our investments in Birmingham Promise and Birmingham City Schools both constitute unprecedented levels of support from our City to our students and families that no previous mayor has ever provided to Birmingham residents. Reimagining public safety and investing in our people and our neighborhoods are a “both/and” proposition, and not the zero-sum proposition posed by the question.

Have you ever been discriminated against? If so, please explain. 

As a Black man, it’s an impossibility that I would have never been or felt discriminated against. In many ways we have all been discriminated against as a majority-Black city that has often had it’s autonomy challenged by state leaders. An example would be actions we’ve taken around Confederate monuments and whether they should be banned from city property. The answer to this is plain and simple: yes. Confederate monuments do not belong in public spaces, public squares, or on city property. This is a stance I have not only made known through words, but through my actions in the summer of 2020. We removed those monuments in spite of the targeted death threats I recieved, and in spite of the state’s attempts to block our progress. These monuments represent a time and agenda where a significant fraction of our population were seen as nothing more than property, second-class citizens, and less than human. Moreover, these monuments glorify individuals and a movement who turned their backs on the United States of America. To the extent these monuments belong in a place other than public city property, maybe there is a conversation to be had, however, I firmly believe that in 2021, we should be past this. Confederate monuments do not belong on our City’s property – plain and simple and the state has no place attempting to dictate that our city maintain statues that are offensive to a majority of our residents.

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