Alabama’s top 10 most powerful and influential local officials
Alabama’s local officials wield a tremendous amount of influence on public policy and how business gets done. Recent events only serve to underscore the importance of the state’s local officials in improving the everyday lives of those they serve and helping their communities prosper.
After an extensive examination of local governments, and the men and women who occupy positions within them, Yellowhammer has compiled and ranked a list of the 10 most powerful and influential local officials from around the state. Some on the list have a heightened level of power and influence inside city limits and county lines, others extend farther out into the Yellowhammer State.
All move the needle in Alabama politics and policy.
Mayors from midsize cities
Frank Brocato, Hoover. The over-the-mountain city is all grown up, and Brocato became its 10th mayor in 2016. Known for being business-friendly with a strong school system, Hoover has become a hub for a variety of commercial activities in the Birmingham area. Following 42 years of service in the city’s fire department, Brocato is the consummate advocate for Hoover.
Walt Maddox, Tuscaloosa. Having the state’s largest university within the limits of your city raises the stakes on your job performance, and Maddox has received resounding praise for his work in the West Alabama city. The Tuscaloosa native and former UAB football player has leveraged the strength of the University of Alabama to maximize the city’s economy and improve quality of life for its residents.
Gulf Coast mayors
Robert Craft (Gulf Shores) and Tony Kennon (Orange Beach). Tourism in Alabama is a $17 billion annual business, and the state’s beaches are the largest source of that revenue. So while their cities may not have the large population numbers of others, Craft and Kennon have significant influence because of their statewide value, and both mayors are perpetually working to ensure nothing stands in the way of those visitors who flock to their cities in droves. Balancing development with maintaining the beauty of their coastal beaches, and taking care of residents and tourists, alike, present challenges to which both have risen.
Patrick Davenport, probate judge, Houston County Davenport had several years of experience as an attorney specializing in probate law before becoming his home county’s probate judge. The Navy veteran and former Marine police officer has quickly developed a strong voice on some of Alabama’s most critical public policy initiatives, such as dealing with mental health issues within the state’s healthcare system. Davenport has also created models for greater efficiency at polling places for statewide implementation.
Elisabeth French, presiding judge of Jefferson County Circuit and district judges tend not to enjoy as much power and influence as other elected officials in Alabama. However, Jefferson County is different. The county’s judicial system is massive and intricate, and French is tasked with oversight for all the court system’s employees and is charged with maintaining an orderly and expeditious process through which justice can be administered. A Cumberland School of Law graduate, French is also the first African-American woman to serve as presiding judge for any judicial circuit in the state’s history.
Bill Partridge, chief of police, City of Oxford Partridge throughout his tenure has sought to stay on the forefront of law enforcement methods and technologies, and his work has impacted more than just his city. A graduate of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, Partridge currently serves as president of the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police. As a founder of the East Area Metro Crime Center, Partridge says of its impact, “What this center will be able to do is, we’ll be able to bring in 23 different local, state, and federal agencies under one roof to share intelligence, and to share what’s going on on a day to day basis, to help solve crimes faster and hopefully prevent crimes.”
10. David Money, commissioner and probate judge, Henry County Money is one of the few remaining occupants of both the office of probate judge and chairman of the county commission. The Abbeville native has lived his entire life in Henry County, yet his influence reverberates throughout Alabama. He currently serves as president of the powerful Alabama Association of County Commissions, a position through which he has engaged prominently in state policy. Money was a vocal proponent of Rebuild Alabama and has a track record of economic development success for his area. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he formerly owned a Ford dealership prior to entering public service.
9. Steven Reed, mayor, City of Montgomery Reed was sworn in as Montgomery’s 57th mayor in November 2019. His term brings with it much hope and anticipation for a more holistic approach to governance in Alabama’s capital city. In a short time, Reed has already exhibited an ability to communicate effectively with people from all corners of the city. A former football player at Morehouse College, he received a Master of Business Administration at Vanderbilt University and has shown a keen understanding of how to meet the needs of the business community while tending to essential city services.
8. Connie Hudson, commissioner, Mobile County A commissioner in Alabama’s second-largest county, Hudson has spent more than two and a half decades building a power base in her area. She served nine years on the Mobile City Council before her election to the county commission. A graduate of Troy University, Hudson has had an impact on commerce along the Gulf Coast. She served on the board of the Alabama State Port Authority and as an advocate for the many large economic development projects Mobile has seen in recent years. A 2019 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact and current board member of the Alabama Association of County Commissions, Hudson continues to make her mark along the Gulf Coast.
7. Jimmie Stephens, commissioner, Jefferson County Stephens is the president of the county commission in the state’s most populous county. Few know the area they represent quite like Stephens. He grew up in Jefferson County and has never really left, having attended Bessemer High School and Samford University. That connection to his community has carried him to a position where a leads a commission which oversees a $700 million budget for its citizens. Stephens had a long career in the food and grocery industry prior to entering public service and has sought to implement business principles into county governance.
6. Derrick Cunningham, sheriff, Montgomery County While the capital city has struggled with its law enforcement effort over the last decade, Cunningham has built one of Alabama’s most effective and admired departments in the surrounding area. He has been a leading advocate for juvenile justice reform and better outcomes for children who enter the state’s criminal justice system. Cunningham was elected by his peers to the position of president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association. His infusion of technology and innovation into Montgomery County’s policing techniques has drawn praise. The Troy University graduate oversees a 300-person agency and a $27 million budget.
5. Dale Strong, commissioner, Madison County There will never be a power vacuum in Madison County so long as Strong is in office. He is a bit of an old-school politician trapped in a young man’s body. He looks for every opportunity to exert influence and pulls every lever of power available to him. As chairman of the county commission, he occupies the lone position elected county-wide. For those wanting greater efficiency in government, the Strong-led agencies in Madison County should serve as models. He has a professional background in banking and pharmaceutical sales, and he is an emergency medical technician. His relentless advocacy for improved infrastructure in the fast-growing county of 375,000 people will be one of the cornerstones of his legacy.
4. Hoss Mack, sheriff, Baldwin County Mack is a must-have relationship for current and aspiring statewide elected officials. This speaks to his political strength and influence in Baldwin County and to the respect he commands on law enforcement issues. Serving his fourth term in office, Mack has worked for the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Department in various capacities since 1989. He is a past president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association and a director of the National Sheriffs Association. He has been a voice on national initiatives such as the Blue Lightning task force which aims to stop human trafficking. Well over 6 million visitors trek through the 2,027 square miles that make up Mack’s jurisdiction, endowing him with tremendous responsibility for which he has proved highly capable.
3. Tommy Battle, mayor, Huntsville Battle leads a city chock-full of engineers, scientists, military veterans and entrepreneurs. On one hand, this is a group of natural rule-followers who consistently remain open to new ways of doing things. On the other hand, expectations are sky-high. Battle has managed to thrive in this environment and become one of the state’s most prominent elected officials. With the winds of innovation at his back, Battle has brought major economic development projects to Huntsville — and helped existing businesses grow — through his commitment to infrastructure and willingness to work with other governmental bodies throughout the Tennessee Valley. With a triple-A credit rating and a double-A baseball team, Battle’s Huntsville will continue to be a city many others across Alabama desire to replicate.
2. Sandy Stimpson, mayor, Mobile Stimpson spent more than 40 years in the building industry as a lumber manufacturer. That experience served him well as one of the enduring traits possessed by those at the top of this list is an ability to build consensus. Stimpson is the chief executive officer for a city that has diversity among its population and its interests. Manufacturing, tourism and professional services drive the city’s economy. International investment is critical. Public safety and revitalization are chief concerns in Mobile communities. Stimpson has effectively tackled them all and received strong reviews along the way. With the entire state getting back to work, the Port of Mobile expanding to accommodate additional shipping demand and Stimpson launching several other initiatives to improve quality of life for Mobilians, the city is poised to prosper in the coming years.
1. Randall Woodfin, mayor, Birmingham Woodfin will be exceedingly successful in whatever he decides to do when he finishes his tenure as mayor of Birmingham. If he chooses to start a business, practice law, launch a hedge fund or pursue a charitable endeavor, his ability to build coalitions and get people to buy into a common purpose is nearly unmatched in the Yellowhammer State. Woodfin became the city’s 30th mayor in 2017, and he has not looked back. The Morehouse College and Cumberland School of Law graduate immediately forged partnerships with some of the state’s largest employers, as well as with leaders on the neighborhood level. Woodfin has found a way to initiate programs, such as Birmingham Promise and BhamStrong, which benefit the entire spectrum of people, families and businesses calling Birmingham home. He has fostered a spirit of entrepreneurship in the city and revitalized areas previously thought lost. The sky is the limit for Woodfin, but for right now, he is the most powerful and influential local official in Alabama.