The Yellowhammer Local Leader 20 is a collection of 20 of Alabama’s brightest local leaders. The criteria for making this list was fairly broad. Some members of the LL20 are up-and-coming elected officials who will likely go on to higher office in the future. Other members of the list are grassroots leaders who organize activists on the ground and influence elections and elected officials. Others we are featuring are just doing such a good job in their current role that they deserve some recognition or are notable business leaders who are primed for a run in the future. No members of the legislature or statewide office are included in this list (see our Power & Influence 40 for that).
Over 150 individuals were nominated for the LL20 by a wide range of people including Representatives, Senators, Montgomery insiders, Republican Party leaders, activists, judges, district attorneys, county commissioners, mayors and more.
In the end, we did our best to narrow the list down to a diverse group of 20 local leaders who should be on your radar — even including a few Democrats from their beleaguered ranks. We will be releasing the list 5 at a time throughout the week. Enjoy a look at some of Alabama’s most notable local leaders.
[Editor's note: Yellowhammer does NOT agree politically with all of the members of the LL20. Remember, Henry Mabry made our Power & Influence 40. We obviously don't support much of what he does but can't deny his power and influence. Bottom line: inclusion on this list is not an endorsement.]
1. Dale Strong: Madison County Commissioner
Dale Strong is a force of nature in Madison County. He is the only member of the Local Leader 20 who was also on our “Power & Influence Up and Comer” list earlier this year. He will become Madison County Commission Chairman in November. When he does, he will be leading one of fastest growing counties in the state. “Dale is like the energizer bunny,” said State Representative Mike Ball. “He just keeps going and going. He’s smart and quick-thinking and seems to be at his best in the middle of a crisis.”
2. Rob Riley: Birmingham Attorney
Even though Riley has never run for office, he has already run the statewide political gauntlet during his father’s campaigns. The Riley name has ubiquitous recognition around the state and Riley’s fundraising ability puts him in an elite class of potential statewide candidates. It’s not a matter of if he will run, but when, and for what office. “He has the charm and charisma of his dad,” said one insider. “But it’s hard to say at this point whether he’ll pursue DC — or Montgomery.”
3. Walt Maddox: Tuscaloosa Mayor
Maddox has used the non-partisanship of municipal elections as a way to downplay his political leanings. But make no mistake — he’s a liberal Democrat through and through. A quick look back at his resume reveals a five-year stint as a Field Director for the AEA. Still, with the Democratic party in total shambles, Maddox is one of their few great hopes for the future. He remains fairly popular in Tuscaloosa in spite of the pushback against his much-maligned big government tornado recovery plan known as “Tuscaloosa Forward.” What will be his next move?
4. Scott Donaldson: Judge, Sixth Judicial Circuit
Donaldson decided against a Supreme Court run this election cycle but it’s only a matter of time before he ends up on the Court of Civil Appeals or Supreme Court. He is extremely sharp and is a man of unquestioned integrity. He’s quietly developing relationships with individuals and groups around the state who take a particular interest in the courts.
5. William Bell: Mayor of Birmingham
Although the bar was set pretty low prior to his arrival, many in the Birmingham area say Bell has had a positive term at the helm of the state’s largest city. He is a staunch liberal Democrat so it’s hard to imagine him having a shot at statewide office. However, at the right time, a U.S. Congressional bid or State Senate run could be in his future. But even if he doesn’t move on to higher office, another term as Mayor could be considered a positive end to his career after many had left the former City Councilman and County Commissioner for political-dead.