I really don’t like being the voice of discontent. Especially when I’m criticizing the Homecoming King. I meant to say my new ever so popular Mayor. Some will say that I’m not giving him a fair break; it is in fact quite early in his tenure but when we let up on our politicians even the ones (or maybe especially the ones) who are likable we risk setting a bad precedent. When we make excuses for them. When we turn a blind eye to their actions or inactions we are setting ourselves up for future failure.
Yesterday, Alabama Today posted a story on Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s promises made versus promises kept for his first 100 days. If you didn’t read it – in summary most of his promises are still a work in progress. Which would be fine but I didn’t set the 100 day limit. Neither did you. He did. Which is why it’s so meaningful that someone point out that he didn’t make self imposed deadlines.
We gave the mayor’s office the opportunity to respond to the status of various promises we couldn’t find kept. It took quite a while to get a response back. Hopefully the Mayor, who made transparency a cornerstone of his campaign improves on that. Many of the promises were met with messages that the results or the programs were forthcoming. Of the 15 promises we checked 6.5 were completed — so less than 50%. And that’s giving him credit for downsizing his police detail by one, instead of eliminating it altogether. More on that below.
I know that Mayor Woodfin has developed quasi-celebrity status in our city since he bested former Mayor William Bell back in October. Some would say that’s part of how he won, selling himself, and his personality, as a new brand for the city. I get it too. He’s young, affable, and he united and mobilized the voters in this city in a way that shook the establishment Birmingham oldguard to its core.
He was in the cover of About Town magazine recently. He received lots of attention for jumping out of an airplane last week. But if I see one more puff-piece about him or his administration, or one more gloss over his broken promises — I’m going to scream. If the rest of our city was run like the mayor’s PR shop we’d be in good shape.
It’s as if they have inside men in nearly every outlet in the city. Oh wait, they do. They have some of Birmingham’s finest former journalists working for the mayor in a public relations capacity: Edward Bowser who used to work for AL.com. As well as Rick Journey, a former newscaster for WBRC FOX6 who for a while had his own pubic affairs shop and Chandra Temple from the Birmingham Times. So the city may not be seeing the results they need yet, but the mayor’s reputation and image of things getting done is certainly being well taken care of. Not necessarily the most compelling thing that could be going on in our city, but it is something.
That said, I’m actually a fan of Woodfin. I’ve met him briefly twice. The first time, during his campaign I stopped him on a sidewalk outside of Urban Standard (my favorite cafe in Birmingham) because he was wearing a Woodfin sticker. I had at up to that point during his campaign cycle had two people come knock on my door for him. I also had received several phone calls from campaign volunteers and so being a veteran of the field every time I saw someone who was a Woodfin volunteer, I was stopping to tell them what a great job they were doing.
Lo and behold it was the soon to be mayor himself. Needless to say at the time I wish I had paid closer attention to the photos on palm cards the door knockers left behind. He was polite and humble, and noted how proud he was of his campaign team. As he should have been.
My concern with the mayor is that he and his staff focus on more than just his image and adding all his favorite people from around town to committees to study problems. We need results. We don’t need them after these committees can have a dozen meetings. We need results today.
For example: the police department and crime. Yes, there should be a long term strategy for addressing our town’s violence, burglaries and other crimes. There should be public/private partnerships with churches and non-profits, but what we need right now are bodies on the street. What we need is leadership at the department that is focused on the right things. We need accountability with how detectives are handling cases and how money is being spent.
My personal experience with the police department both as a resident and as a reporter have been at a D- minus level. Just yesterday, I received a Facebook message from a young lady who was a victim of a crime last month. She clearly Googled her detectives name (the same detective I had who dropped the ball and did nearly nothing…okay did nothing) after being infuriated by the lack of progress in her case and found my story where I detailed the issues I had with my break-in experience and the same lack of police response. Note: I never did receive information from the Public Information Officer over there despite numerous emails. Rather, they just flat-out ignored me because they did not like the editorial I wrote. There’s a new one there now. Alabama Today will resend and see where that gets us.
While the mayor is working on replacing the previous police chief who resigned last year, it was reported yesterday his interim replacement had his own personal issues and he resigned as well. The mayor is now in the process of selecting a permanent police chief lets hope for the sake of the city that he nails the pick and the department gets a much needed overhaul. I’ve spoken to three Birmingham Police officers off the record and moral is low and those in power are more interested in staying in power than in turning things around.
We’ve got a mayor doing death defying stunts like jumping out of a plane while in the same breath concerned for his personal safety so much so that he kept all but one in his security detail. In the mean time we have three year olds and pregnant women being shot in their doorways and vehicles.
Is our mayor in grave danger? Our Congressman, U.S Senators, our legislators none of them need full-time protection and they’re arguably much more high profile than the mayor. Heck, our city councilmen or county elected officials don’t need protection. Why the change of heart?
Again, the same arguments Woodfin made against Bell would to be plaguing him now if not for the spin-team who expertly highlighted the one cut from the team, all the while dismissing the promise was getting rid of it entirely.
What I want from my mayor is not a Prom King. It’s a not a magazine cover model. I want a mayor who will stop and focus, and start solving our city’s problems. Solve them with genuine solutions not committees that kick the can down the road for someone else to deal with. That’s such a historical, bureaucratic non-solution.
Mayor Woodfin, I’m speaking to you directly if I may: When you were running for mayor, you proposed real solutions. Those solutions weren’t necessarily boards to study issues. You were going to look all 99 neighborhoods and help them. Let’s get to doing more of that. Let’s get to sitting down rolling up your sleeves and taking action.
For me the biggest areas in town where we need the mayor’s attention is: crime, corruption in the police department, waste and mismanagement of police resources, and we need transparency in our city government. All things you promised last year. Start there.
We need to make our city look like an appealing place for businesses and for new families. You look the part for an up and coming city’s mayor now let’s see if we can get the rest of the city to match the vision they voted for when they elected you.
One of my favorite quotes by U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen , “When I feel the heat, I see light.” Here’s to hoping that in addition to fan clubbing over the new mayor people also keep the heat on him to keep his promises.