Jim Cannon has spent years chronicling the sordid past of Phenix City, talking as long as anyone will listen about a history he says "just won't die."
But the local historian and freshly retired pharmacy manager has shifted his gaze forward in recent weeks, urging his supporters to return to the polls Tuesday for the Phenix City Council runoff.
"What I want to talk about now is the present and what we can do for the future," said Cannon, who squares off against Steve Bailey, the longtime automobile dealer, in his bid to represent the city's north side. "I'm retired now, so hopefully the people of Phenix City will hire me for District 1."
Cannon took more than 41 percent of the 2,106 votes cast in the Aug. 28 municipal election, finishing nearly 200 votes ahead of Bailey in a five-man contest. Cannon's bragging rights notwithstanding, Bailey sees a different equation in a heads-up race.
"I feel real confident even though I came in second place," said Bailey, whose father Don served two terms as mayor. "I still feel like the odds are in my favor to win the election. Being in second place makes you work a little harder than being in first place."
Bailey said he carries the endorsement of the three also-rans -- Keith Ingram, Norman K. Cook and Billy Sims II -- who missed the runoff but together accounted for more than 25 percent of the vote. "That has helped me a lot," said Bailey, who expects many of those voters to swing his way. "It's opened up some extra doors."
Cannon and Bailey, citing their respective business experience, both have vowed to take common-sense approaches to restore fiscal responsibility on Broad Street after four years of controversial spending. They've sounded similar notes by stressing the importance of an audit once the new council takes office.
Bailey, 59, said he'll try to rescind the so-called renter's tax, an unpopular business license fee for owners of rental properties. He also will look at lowering the city's 8.75 percent sales tax, which increased last year to help fund capital improvement projects.
Bailey says the city is losing money to neighboring areas like Columbus, where the sales tax is 7 percent but soon will increase to 8 percent after the passage of a transportation special purpose local option sales tax. "The more money we have coming to our town to shop, the more taxes we're going to take in -- even at a lower rate," Bailey said.
Cannon, 66, calls himself a "mover and shaker" and a visionary. "Some people say I live in the past. No, I know the past, and that's why I never want to return to it.
"I know how to work with people of all ages, of all backgrounds," Cannon added. "I know how to solve problems. I know how to develop budgets."
Bailey has received financial backing from the Concerned Citizens Committee, but the organizer of the grassroots group, Charles Adams, referred to the two checks totaling $750 as "pass through money" that doesn't amount to an endorsement.
"Our committee was split somewhat between Mr. Bailey and Mr. Cannon," said Adams, a former state representative. "Our feeling all along has been those two are both good men, and we'd be fortunate to have either one of them as a city councilman."
Adams said he considers Cannon the favorite because he was the leading vote getter Aug. 28, and because Cannon's supporters are older and more likely to participate in the second round of a municipal election. "The challenge in the runoff is getting your voters back to the polls," Adams said. "We just don't have a history of having a very good attendance in a runoff."
Cannon, who is friends with Bailey, likened the race to a "David and Goliath" matchup, saying his opponent has outraised him and dotted the town with political signs. "When I get to the pearly gates," Cannon quipped, "the first thing I'll see is a 'Vote for Steve Bailey' sign."
Voters on the city's south side also have a runoff to decide between Arttie Pontez Sumbry and Arthur L. Day Jr.
Day, 66, topped the six-way race in August with some 29 percent of the vote. Sumbry, the son of beleaguered incumbent Arthur L. Sumbry Sr., received about 26 percent.
The elder Sumbry withdrew from the race a week before the municipal election, ensuring the end of his controversial tenure. He has since thrown his weight behind his younger son, who is less known to voters than Arthur L. Sumbry Jr., the Russell County coroner.
"He's taking the torch," said Arthur Sumbry Sr., who is scheduled to stand trial Dec. 3 on felony perjury and forgery charges. "We're just going to stand by and watch."
Political observers have puzzled over the Sumbrys this election season, particularly when it appeared, for much of the campaign, that father and son would be fighting for the same seat. "It seems like his son really doesn't want to be there," Day said.
Arttie Sumbry, 32, has not returned calls seeking comment on his campaign. The younger Sumbry filed financial disclosure reports late Thursday -- his first of the election cycle -- that showed he hasn't received any reportable contributions, said Russell County Probate Judge Alford M. Harden Jr.
Day received financial backing from a number of supporters, including the Concerned Citizens Committee, which sees Day as a natural addition to the all new council. Day could benefit from the political climate that swept incumbent council members Jimmy Wetzel and Michelle E. Walker out of office.
The city also has elected its first black mayor in Eddie Lowe, who won a four-way race outright to replace retiring Mayor Sonny Coulter.
"Phenix City is ready for a new council in every district," Day said. "That's what everybody is looking forward to."
A Phenix City native, Day worked more than 32 years for Snap-on tools. If elected, Day said he will work with state officials to install a traffic light at the dangerous intersection of U.S. 431 and Alabama Highway 165. He also wants to see a new fire station near the Brandywine subdivision, and he has pledged to hold at least two town hall meetings a year to address citizens' concerns.
"I really want to make a change here in District 3," Day said, "but I'm going to need the help of the voters."