Phenix City Councilman Jimmy Wetzel suffered an electoral thrashing Tuesday, as voters handed political newcomer Chris Blackshear a landslide victory over one of the city's most loathed politicians.
In his four years in power, Wetzel ruffled more feathers than he could keep track of, controlling a majority voting bloc that seemed to generate controversy at every other City Council meeting. But few predicted the degree of dissatisfaction that was revealed when the polls closed Tuesday night.
Unofficial tallies showed Blackshear garnering some 71 percent of the vote and winning resounding victories in all three of the city's precincts. He received 3,238 votes to Wetzel's 900, according to unofficial results.
"You've got to tip your hat to the community," said Blackshear, 38, who works in mid-level management at TSYS. "This whole community, they went to the polls screaming for change. As of right now you will have zero returning councilmembers."
Blackshear spoke in an interview just a few feet from the site of Albert Patterson's assassination. It was the state attorney general-elect's shooting death in 1954 that prompted the cleanup in Phenix City, Blackshear noted: "Here we are today with a complete cleanup of the City Council," he said. "Now the hard part starts."
Wetzel received about 20 percent of the vote, an embarrassing margin for a councilman who thought he had strong support. Perhaps the most striking upset came at the District 3 box.
The city's south side had propelled Wetzel to victory in 2008, and the incumbent had based his re-election bid on carrying a majority of the black vote. But Blackshear took 59 percent of the vote in District 3 -- "That's the one that really shocked me," Blackshear said -- and a whopping 83 percent in District 1, the city's north side.
A second challenger, Johnny Barfield, received 408 votes -- about 9 percent. He said he was disappointed, but called the campaign a learning experience. "The citizens have spoken," he said, "so there's nothing else to be said."
The vote capped an energized political season in which the electorate seemed to demand change in city government. Wetzel had become the face of the City Council, pushing through a series of tax increases and capital projects that many citizens deemed too costly.
"Today the citizens yelled out very loudly, 'Enough!'" said Larry E. DiChiara, the Phenix City Schools superintendent who has butted heads publicly with Wetzel and tried to be the first in line at his precinct Tuesday to vote him out. "Often times citizens are reluctant to stand up and fight because of fear of being bullied, bruised or battered. Today, in the safety of the polling booth, the citizens threw a knockout punch."
One of those voters was MaDonna Thomas, a 50-year-old District 2 resident who chose Blackshear over Wetzel and Barfield.
"I heard him talking on the TV the other day," Thomas said, "and he seems like he can do the job and do it a little better than the other person who did it a few years ago and this past year. He just seemed like he knew what he was talking about."
For his part, Wetzel acknowledged that he and his fellow incumbents had been "plastered" by the opposition, but said he was "fine with it."
"I've enjoyed the last four years," Wetzel said. "I've had a great time. I think we've done a lot of great things for the city. Obviously, the people want to go a different direction, and I'm fine with that. No hard feelings, and I support the folks coming in."
Wetzel said he doesn't have any plans to run for office again: "But who knows what the future holds," he added.