Randall Woodfin advanced in his bid to unseat the incumbent mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday, raising the hopes of progressives who had rallied behind his candidacy.
Woodfin, a prosecutor and member of the mid-size city’s school board, had elicited liberal backing inside and outside Birmingham thanks to his youth and bold policy proposals, including a plan to provide free college tuition for the city’s high school graduates.
“This is a positive development for Birmingham, to have a young, energetic, well-prepared candidate,” said Vincent Gawronski, a political science professor at Birmingham-Southern College. “He was able to get the vote out and energized the electorate.”
The outcome is more favorable for Woodfin than at least one pre-election poll had predicted. As of Aug. 1, Bell had the support of 54 percent of voters, compared with 17 percent for construction contractor Chris Woods and 14 percent for Woodfin, according to a poll conducted by Birmingham-Southern.
Bell has presided over a revival in Birmingham’s downtown area, luring young professionals and middle-class families back to the city center.
But even as the predominantly African-American city of about 212,000 residents has flourished overall, those on the city’s margins have not always shared in the gains. The poverty rate in the city jumped from 26.4 percent in 2010 to 30.9 percent in 2015.
Using the slogan “we deserve better,” Woodfin promised a host of proposals to ensure that “all of Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods” shared in the city’s growth and advancement. Some of his plans included a summer jobs program for the city’s youth, a repurposing of community recreation centers for workforce training and instituting a tax credit for businesses that hire ex-offenders.
Woodfin accused Bell of wasting money on unnecessary mayoral staff and pricey development projects that could be used to buttress school funding, finance more pressing infrastructure needs and start new social programs.
Perhaps most of all, Woodfin claimed the mantle of a new, progressive crop of African-American political leaders in the South; Bell began working in city government in 1979 – two years before Woodfin was born.
“A certain generation is unwilling to let the torch of leadership go,” Woodfin told HuffPost in a July interview.
Woodfin’s bold plans attracted the endorsements of Our Revolution, an organization that emerged out of the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Collective PAC, a political action committee that supports black candidates at all levels of government. Our Revolution president Nina Turner spoke at a get-out-the-vote rally for Woodfin in Birmingham on Saturday.
The alumni network of Woodfin’s alma mater, the historically black Morehouse College, opened the door to fundraisers across the country.
Woodfin’s strong performance keeps alive another pickup opportunity for Our Revolution, which has had greater success since November with candidates it backs at the local and state levels. Victories for the left-leaning group include the elections of Chokwe Antar Lumumba as mayor of Jackson, Mississippi; Christine Pellegrino as a member of the New York state Assembly; and Larry Krasner as the Democratic nominee for district attorney of Philadelphia.