Walt Maddox stood in an incident command center on April 27, 2011, watching a tornado destroy Tuscaloosa.
As a native of the city, he felt horror at a destruction and loss of life he called “soul-crushing.” As the mayor of Tuscaloosa, he began thinking about the response.
“You have those conflicting emotions, and then there was an eerie quietness,” Maddox said in an interview Wednesday. “The TV went out, and then everyone’s phone lit up at once. Everyone kind of turned and looked me and I said ‘Let’s get to work.’”
Maddox’s work in the days, months and years after the tornado hit – up to and including rebuilding the city’s water utility system — won him national accolades. Winning a fourth term as mayor last year by a wide margin, Maddox, 45, is now seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
“I understand how to lead in a crisis,” he said. “And our state is in a crisis.”
Long considered a star for Alabama Democrats, Maddox and other Democratic aspirants hope the enthusiasm among the base, combined with Doug Jones’ victory in the U.S. Senate election in December can breathe life into a party that has mostly seen frustration at the state level over the last eight years.