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Leadership. It matters.
I have no patience for leadership that passes the buck. Recently on Rightside Radio, I took issue with the leadership of Birmingham’s liberal Mayor Randall Woodfin. In researching for a segment on statements liberals say, I found and played a clip of Woodfin discussing his feelings on Alabama’s abortion law. The mayor of Birmingham had recently stated on his social media that in the wake of the leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion indicating that Roe v. Wade may soon be overturned, he is opposed to such a thing and demands that Congress take immediate action to codify Roe so that states won’t have a say.
He has a right to his opinion, which represents the typical liberal talking point. But it was the comments that I found from his 2019 interview with local media regarding Alabama passing one of the strictest state laws against abortion that really got my attention.
In 2019, Alabama became one of the landmark states that passed legislation effectively declaring that, in the event of a reversal of Roe v. Wade, we would no longer have abortions conducted in this state. Liberal Mayor Randall Woodfin said at that time that it made him sick, that his city (Birmingham) would lose economic development, and that a still-unnamed IT company had decided not to locate there because they were allegedly concerned about the quality of life for their employees in the wake of this legislative action.
Sure. … Sure they did.
So basically, according to liberal Mayor Woodfin, Birmingham lost out on economic development and jobs solely because of a then-pending law on abortion.
Well, I’m calling bunk on that attempt to pass the buck.
If that were the case, then Huntsville, Mobile and all of the state would have shared Birmingham’s alleged pain, and yet quite the opposite has occurred.
Birmingham (under the watch of liberal Mayor Randall Woodfin) has shrunk, its economy has gone down, its crime rate has gone up, and it is no longer the largest city in the state, all of which has occurred on Woodfin’s watch. Meanwhile, just an hour or so north, Huntsville and its surrounding communities have exploded in growth, new jobs and a rise in wages. Huntsville is now the largest city in the state, while Birmingham is barely clinging to second place. There is no difference in the application of a statewide abortion law. The whole state shares in that.
I would hazard that the difference in these two great cities is not abortion laws - not by a stretch. The difference is leadership.
Leadership matters. The tone and tenor of a policy are often the reflection of the leader who presided over the period in which that policy took effect. And leadership matters the most, becomes most visible, and is looked to by others more often when difficulties arise.
Noted author and lecturer Victor Davis Hanson said that “…the leadership of single individuals can still matter… geniuses and inspired leaders who, when the planets line up, can still, by their own genius or lack of it, themselves either win or lose wars.”
Birmingham has shown little of that in its leadership, and it is sad to see.
Let me start by noting how important these two major cities, Birmingham and Huntsville, are to my own life. As an Army kid, I moved much of my life. But one of the consistencies I had was the roots among family in Birmingham and Huntsville.
In Birmingham, my paternal grandfather was a steelworker and I spent many of my summers running barefoot around Wylam, Ensley and out toward Pleasant Grove. My uncle was a VP at City Federal, which was headquartered in downtown Birmingham in its heyday. Iron Bowls at Legion Field, Baron’s games, Tuxedo Junction, concerts at the BJCC. Birmingham is as deep in my heart and mind as any place in the world.
But there was also Huntsville, where despite my family’s many military moves, we managed to come back almost every other tour. My maternal grandfather was the Post Commander at Redstone Arsenal. My father was a project manager at the Missile Command. I went to Chaffee Elementary, moved away and came back to Grissom High School, and completed my first year of college at UAH. I learned to drive there, worked at Parkway City Mall, went to Stars games and loved UAH Hockey. I’ve eaten more Gibson’s BBQ than I would care to say.
The bottom line is that I love both cities. But I have to speak truth in love here.
The differences that we see in their growth and success, or decline and failure, have nothing to do with whether or not the values of this state as a whole are reflective of an abortion restricting law duly passed by the state legislature. Nothing at all. The growth or decline of these two major metropolises’ has everything to do with whether or not the leadership of their respective communities truly enacts policies that benefit the growth of the community in the form of quality of life, vested in such things as economic development, education, safety and essential services. Birmingham is faltering and even failing because those vital actions (and more) are not being done. Instead, the focus of Birmingham’s leadership appears more inclined to spend time talking about legalizing marijuana, expanding entitlement programs, fighting abortion laws, cutting off contracts with churches that don’t toe their line. It’s a mess.
Out of concern that some may dismiss this writing as mere conservative hyperbole, I suggest that reviewing the statistics is instructive in this case. Most recent data indicates that Birmingham and Huntsville are nearly identical in the median age of their populations. This is important as it reflects that no excuse can be made that one has an aging population or a developing workforce. But that is where the similarities stop.
In the past 10 years, Birmingham lost over 12,000 citizens while Huntsville grew by over 34,000. Huntsville’s median income is roughly 40% higher than Birmingham’s, and while Huntsville enjoys an unemployment rate below the state average, Birmingham sits well above that same mark. Median property values in Huntsville are nearly double that of Birmingham. In recent education rankings, the Birmingham City Schools had over 20% (16) of the failing schools in the state, while Huntsville City Schools had two. Birmingham leads all forms of crime statistics in the state, but liberal Mayor Woodfin has seen fit nonetheless to curtail law enforcement abilities in serving warrants. Huntsville, meanwhile, is larger and yet much safer.
In Birmingham, there is a multifaceted existential crisis ongoing. The liberal leadership in Birmingham’s City Hall has enacted policies that have now tragically combined with the recent effects of COVID-19, the government’s shutdown of society, racial and political intolerance, failing schools and rising crime. It has all coalesced, and the social fabric of the Magic City is falling apart. We are seeing in real-time that the leadership of the great city of Birmingham has chosen not to own the problems and has exacerbated them at every turn.
If it were not for the epic growth of Huntsville and the foresight of its leadership under Mayor Tommy Battle and others who preceded him, perhaps we could look at Birmingham and wonder if liberal Mayor Randall Woodfin was right. It would be possible then to think that perhaps Birmingham is getting a raw deal in some way. Without such comparison, one could assume that outside factors have contributed somehow to the decline of the former industrial epicenter of the South… but no. Reality sets in quick when you realize that a mere look at the neighbor to the north strips away any credence to such buck-passing.
Birmingham is failing for lack of leadership. Period. End of Story.
Well, actually, I hope that it's not the end of the story. The people of that great city deserve better.
But it starts with new leadership and new vision.
Phil Williams is a former State Senator, retired Army Colonel and combat veteran, and a practicing Attorney. He has served with the leadership of the Alabama Policy Institute and currently hosts Rightside Radio M-F 2-5 pm on WVNN. His column appears every Monday in 1819 News. To contact Phil or request him for a speaking engagement go to www.rightsideradio.org The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.