Gail Head spent more than 36 years as a public and private school elementary teacher in Phenix City.
Tuesday, as she watched many of her former students walk past her to vote in the city council election, she got a good feeling about how her entry into politics was going to turn out. It was justified.
Head won the District 2 seat without a runoff, unseating incumbent Michelle E. Walker, a one-term councilwoman.
The other two district races are headed to an Oct. 9 runoff. In District 1, Jim Cannon was the leading vote-getter, but must face Steve Bailey in the runoff. In District 3, Arthur L. Day Jr. got the most votes, but must face Arttie "Pontez" Sumbry in the runoff. Sumbry is the son of longtime Phenix City Councilman Arthur Sumbry, who withdrew from the race last week while facing criminal charges for forgery and perjury.
Head could not contain her excitement after getting 51 percent of the 1,006 votes cast in the District 2 race, barely escaping a runoff in the four-person scramble. She taught for more than 27 years in the Phenix City Schools and nine more at Glenwood School.
"I saw a lot of children I taught over the years," she said. "You just don't know how good that made me feel."
Walker, Arthur Sumbry and at-large Councilman Jimmy Wetzel had been part of a three-vote bloc that basically ran Phenix City for the last four years. Like Walker, Wetzel was rejected by voters Tuesday.
"The people of Phenix City have spoken," Head said.
Asked what they said, Head paused.
"They have put some good people in office, and I think they want a fresh start," she said.
In District 3, Day got almost 35 percent of the 1,501 votes to 26 percent for Arttie Sumbry.
Day said they still have some talking to do, and that includes sweeping all vestiges of Arthur Sumbry out of the council chambers. The elder Sumbry withdrew days before the election and endorsed his son in the crowded five-person race to represent the southside.
"I would say he orchestrated everything," said Day, a 66-year-old retired machinist. "I never saw his son campaign and never heard him say a word."
The campaign signs that popped up across District 3 simply stated: "A. Sumbry."
Tuesday evening, Arthur Sumbry and Arttie Sumbry, who works in the family's mortuary business, were outside the Spencer Recreation Center awaiting the results. When asked about his chances in the runoff, Arttie Sumbry said, "No comment."
Day has been working the other candidates in the race for endorsements.
"I feel like if we had not had so many candidates in the District 3 race, I would have won it without a runoff," Day said.
In District 1, Cannon, a drug store manager, got 41 percent of the 2,099 votes cast. Bailey, an automobile dealer whose father, Don Bailey, was a former Phenix City mayor, got 32 percent of the vote.
Cannon, 66, is a Phenix City historian who has studied the city's checkered past and speaks to groups across the state about it.
"I love Phenix City, brother," he said. "I have gone all over Alabama talking about the past. Now, I want to talk about the present, the future."
Bailey likes where he is sitting heading into the runoff.
"The first time my father ran in 1966, he was second in the first election and wound up winning the runoff," Bailey said. "I am really positive about our chances in the runoff."
Cannon said the voters in the city and District 1 made a statement by electing political newcomers Eddie Lowe mayor and Chris Blackshear to the city council at-large post.
"The people of Phenix City have said, 'We want something new,'" Cannon said. "What people now realize is those folks down there work for us and we don't work for them."