Randall Woodfin: A Potential for Greatness
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on May 24, 2019
When I was a young teenager, I once misbehaved very badly in school. My mother was called to the school about my exercise in stupidity on that day. She came to my classroom with tears in her eyes, pulled out a leather strap, and started spanking me in front of my teacher and classmates.
Mom administered my spanking in the classroom (instead of the hallway or principal’s office) for two reasons: First, she wanted to instill in me the discipline to do the right thing at all times and in all settings. Second, Mom wanted my classmates to see and understand that the Watkins family did not tolerate any foolishness in the pursuit of educational excellence.
Of course, I was embarrassed and humiliated by this very public spanking. What I did not realize at the time but clearly see now was the depth of my mother’s love for me. She did not want anything or anybody to stop me from reaching my full potential as a caring, educated, responsible, hard-working, and productive member of society.
Woodfin’s Public Spankings
Since April 18, 2019, I have written 23 articles about the City of Birmingham, Alabama and its lackluster government. Most of these articles publicly spanked Mayor Randall Woodfin, the city’s 37-year-old millennial mayor.
These articles were motivated by my sincere belief that Woodfin was not living up to his full potential to become the greatest mayor in Birmingham’s history. My spankings were administered out of a sense of love for our community and not personal spite against Woodfin.
I met Woodfin for the first time when he was campaigning for mayor during the Summer of 2017. I did not know him prior to our breakfast meeting at Bogue’s restaurant on the city’s Southside. I was not supporting any candidate in the race because my focus was on national and international affairs.
Woodfin and I talked for more than an hour. I was impressed by his intellectual acumen, his sincere humility, his compassion for others, his strong work ethic, his integrity, his ability to overcome seemingly impossible odds in life, and his vision for improving the quality of life for neighborhood residents. Woodfin embodied the energy and vibe I thought would lift Birmingham above the pettiness and divisiveness that has held the city hostage since blacks in the South gained the right to vote in 1965.
What moved me the most was the sight of black cooks and food servers in the restaurant leaving their work stations to hug Woodfin and express their support for his candidacy. Whenever I see the “least of these” genuinely loving a political figure, I know that person is special. What is more, Randall Woodfin had the ability and heart to love them back, unconditionally.
Woodfin and I never talked again until we spoke by telephone on Wednesday. Naturally, he thought my public spankings were harsh and unfair. I listened to Woodfin carefully and then took the opportunity to explain to him what I am now sharing in this article.
I believe in Randall Woodfin. I believe in his vision for Birmingham. I also believe he can become the city’s greatest mayor. I like and respect Woodfin as a man and as an emerging leader in the millennial generation.
Woodfin is the political equivalent of a five-star quarterback Nick Saban would recruit for his Crimson Tide football team. He is the "best of the best" in the talent pool of young politicians in America.
However, Woodfin is nearly two years into his first term as mayor. I do not believe Woodfin is performing the job of mayor up to the level of his five-star potential. I told him so. In my opinion, Woodfin is performing more like a one-star athlete. This is not acceptable to me because I know Woodfin can perform at a much higher level on the playing field.
I am not Woodfin’s cheerleader or flunky; I am a walk-on volunteer coach and mentor in municipal government affairs. I have already paid the tuition for the institutional knowledge and lessons Woodfin is learning on the job.
I do not seek or want anything from Randall Woodfin other than his outstanding performance in the job he sought and won. My vested interest in Woodfin’s success as mayor is community-based, not personal. Unlike Woodfin's newly found, rich and powerful corporate friends (who would not give him the time of day before he was elected as mayor), I do not seek to control him.
I served as the special counsel for the two most powerful mayors in Alabama history: Dr. Richard Arrington, Jr. in Birmingham (a black Democrat) and Emory Folmar in Montgomery (the legendary former chairman of the Alabama Republican Party). I know first-hand how powerful the mayor’s position can be, if Woodfin is willing to use this platform as a tool for achieving economic empowerment, educational excellence, and community revitalization.
Woodfin will never reach his full potential if everybody around him is kissing his ass. To me, the sincerest form of loyalty is constructive criticism.
Furthermore, Woodfin will never reach his full potential as mayor if he succumbs to the temptation to let Alabama Power Company, Regions Bank, and their corporate allies handle everything of importance to him.
Finally, Woodfin will not reach his full potential until he shows neighborhood residents, in a clear and convincing fashion, that he has their backs. After all, Woodfin is the guardian of their political interests. He is the only city official with the statutory power and authority to "enforce all laws and ordinances" in order to protect these residents from the forces that oppose our growth.
The Community Deserves Strong Leadership
In recent months, Mayor Woodfin has been tested on two things that matter a lot to his political constituents. His response to both of these matters has left many supporters worried.
First, Woodfin allowed Council President Valerie Abbott to control the outcome of Major League Baseball’s proposed $10 million Youth Baseball Academy at George Ward Park. Abbott killed this wholesome, citywide baseball academy project because the residents in the adjacent Glen Iris neighborhood opposed it. They did not want young inner-city kids in or around their upscale neighborhood.
No black mayor in America should tolerate this kind of racially insensitive behavior from anyone. Had I been Birmingham’s mayor, I would have run over Valerie Abbott for the benefit of these young kids. They deserved a chance for a better life and MLB was willing to give it to them.
Second, Sherman Industries tested Woodfin’s resolve when the company decided to relocate its downtown concrete manufacturing plant to the Five Points West residential community. Woodfin should have promptly, publicly, and forcefully declared this ill-conceived plan “dead on arrival” once it was presented to City Hall. Because the State of Alabama has given Woodfin vast executive powers in Birmingham’s Mayor-Council Act, I expect him to use these powers to aggressively protect city residents from known air-polluters like Sherman Industries and any other business that threatens their health, safety, and welfare.
A Call for Greatness
Based upon our telephone conversation Wednesday, I now believe Mayor Randall Woodfin understands the importance of reaching his full potential as the mayor of Birmingham. Woodfin has the ability to reach this potential and I am committed to helping him achieve it.
All of us need Randall Woodfin to reach his full potential. Woodfin will never achieve greatness if he allows himself to become a “pack mule” for the business community. Sadly, too many of our elected and appointed officials are already serving in this demeaning political role.
Make no mistake about it, I am on Randall Woodfin’s side. My obligation is to help him succeed in life. This, I will do.
I am hoping and praying that God will place his hands on Randall Woodfin and guide him to his rightful place in history.
PHOTO: Randall Woodfin, Mayor of the City of Birmingham, Alabama.