Chris Woods, a former Auburn football player and contractor who successfully sued the city for wrongful termination, announced his candidacy for mayor of Birmingham last week. Woods, the president of CW Woods Contracting, said he entered the race to address Birmingham’s crime problem, which he sees as being at the root of the city’s economic troubles.
Woods joins a crowded field for the August 22 election. Incumbent Mayor William Bell, school board member Randall Woodfin, former Birmingham police officer and Jefferson County deputy sheriff Randy Davis, Charis Community Church pastor Fernandez Sims, and entrepreneur Ervin Philemon Hill have all announced their candidacy for the office.
“Reducing crime and improving education are the two reasons why people move to cities, but unfortunately, in our case, that’s been the reason they leave the city,” Woods said. Woods promised that, if elected, he would ensure that “fighting crime and public safety would be reflected in the budget.”
Woods says he would remove salary caps on police officers, which he argues drives experienced officers away from Birmingham, and change the officers’ contract to require that new hires promise to work for the city for 10 years. In addition to keeping veterans from leaving the city for better paying jobs in the suburbs, the increased salary would have an immediate boost in morale, he said. Woods also promised to set up “command posts” in particularly crime-heavy areas to allow citizens quicker access to law enforcement.
Woods described these steps as his “short-term fix” to crime in Birmingham, but viewed his long-term plans for the city’s school system as being ultimately more important for reducing crime in Birmingham. Woods said he would work with the school board and business leaders to ensure that students who are not planning to go to college learn valuable workforce skills that will enable them to land a good-paying job. Equally important, Woods said, was the inculcation of “soft skills”: character traits such as responsibility and the ability to understand the consequences of one’s actions.
“I know the school board and the school superintendent are the decision makers, but we would work hard to develop a relationship to sell and present and provide funding for the program,” Woods added. “As mayor, you don’t have to call me; I’m running to you. I know you need help.”
He cited discipline in schools as another problem he would work with the school board to address, and vowed to provide the city schools with adequate funding to better handle infractions.
“Discipline is a major challenge in the schools, and the teachers don’t need to spend half the classroom time dealing with discipline issues,” he said. “We will work with the superintendent to have them place the funding they need to deal with the discipline [problems]. They are the educators, they know what’s needed; it’s just a funding challenge.
“We need to put in a mindset like we do football. You know how you develop a football player: little league to middle school to junior varsity. You bring them along with the stages. And we need that same mindset for education,” Woods added, explaining that he wants to see a greater emphasis in Birmingham’s elementary schools on cultivating strong reading skills in each student, followed by the teaching of useful workplace skills and character development when they reach middle school and high school.
Woods said he would work with and listen to other community leaders to find new ways to improve student outcomes and reduce crime.
“I love my city and I think it can be an all-American city on an annual basis, but that really needs the leadership bringing everybody together to challenge the problems we’re having with crime. I mean bringing everybody together: … the clergy, the business, the 501(c)(3) [nonprofit organizations], those charities that have been out there and have proven to be credible and have added value. I’m talking about bringing everybody together,” he said.
Woods listed establishing a strong working relationship with the city council and regaining control of the Birmingham Water Works as high priorities. He also promised to ask the Alabama State Legislature to pass a bill limiting mayors in the state to two terms. The Alabama Code currently does not set any term limits for mayors in the state.
“As mayor, I know I can get that passed. Somebody else cannot do that. … If that’s good enough for the president of the United States, it’s good enough for the governor, it’s good enough for me,” he said. “Two terms is what I would seek, two consecutive terms, and then we should open the door to someone who is new and excited and determined to really make a difference for the city.”
Mayors were never meant to be career politicians, Woods argued, and he said that the term limits would reduce cronyism and corruption.
Woods said he is running in large part to create a more transparent city government and promised to “restore the public trust” and put an end to “pay to play politics and corruption.” He linked his opposition to corruption to his own experiences, repeating allegations he made to the city council in November that Michael Bell and David Merrida, executive director and associate director, respectively, of the Birmingham Construction Industry Authority, used their positions to demand payments from Woods and had him terminated from city projects when he did not comply. After being terminated from several city construction projects in 2013, Woods filed a wrongful termination suit, and in 2015 was awarded $3.5 million. Throughout the lawsuit, the city argued that Woods was fired for missing deadlines. (In 2016, another judge found that the jury had incorrectly calculated the amount owed and reduced the judgment to $2.5 million.)
Neither the Birmingham Construction Industry Authority nor the mayor’s office replied to requests for comment on Woods’ allegations.
Despite the problems he sees in the city, Woods said that he is optimistic that the people of Birmingham can come together to tackle the issues affecting their community.
“Our city is at the crossroads, and if we decide to continue on the path that we’re on, I will respect the will of the people. But I believe that we’re ready for greater things,” he said. “But we can be great! We’ve got a national championship mindset, a hall of fame mindset, because we want to aim for the best, and that’s what makes people from all levels of life come together and attack our problems.”