Owen Ditchfield to run for Muscogee school board

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 20, 2014 

Owen Ditchfield in 2009.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

Owen Ditchfield, a former Muscogee County School Board representative from District 7, said Thursday he will run again — this time for the nine-member board’s lone at-large seat.

“I’m running because when I was defeated the last time I promised my wife I wouldn’t run anymore so she could stop being a school board widow, and I keep my promises,” Ditchfield said. “But after she heard (new superintendent) David Lewis a few times, she told me, ‘We need to support this guy.’ So she released me from that promise, and I think I can be an effective member.”

Asked why, he said, “Because I was last time, and I’m going to do the same things I did last time.”

In the 2000 election, Ditchfield ousted Barbara Pierce from the District 7 seat. In 2004, he lost to a friend and neighbor, the Rev. Joe Roberson. The District 7 seat, held by Shannon Smallman now, isn’t up for election this year, but Ditchfield doesn’t want to wait another two years.

“So many people said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t vote for you because I don’t live in your district,’” he said. “A lot of people asked me or begged me to run again. When I was serving District 7, I virtually was serving the whole county anyway. I visited every school.”

Ditchfield, a retired Fort Benning Schools media specialist, is president of the South Columbus Concerned Citizens and a member of the Muscogee County Library Board. He also is a volunteer tour leader at the National Infantry Museum and sells produce from his organic garden during Market Days on Broadway.

At-large representative Cathy Williams has said she won’t run for re-election, but Ditchfield will have at least two opponents who already have announced their candidacy: Real estate broker and former educator Kia Chambers and former Columbus NAACP branch president and retired Sgt. 1st Class Nate Sanderson. Ditchfield said a three-way race isn’t too crowded for him.

“I think I have so many people I know around town from all the activities I’ve been involved in,” he said. “My whole focus will be on the children, not where they’re from, not where they’re living, not their race or anything like that. It’s going to be every kid.”

Ditchfield estimated it will take $35,000 to run a successful county-wide campaign. Former Columbus mayor Bob Hydrick is his campaign manager, he said. Qualifying for the May 20 election is March 3-7.

The Ledger-Enquirer reached Chambers and Sanderson for their reaction to Ditchfield entering the race. Both welcomed him but emphasized their own credentials.

“I think my qualifications give a unique perspective to the board, my education background and my business background,” Chambers said. “I’m not in a competition, so to speak, I’m focused on my race, and I’m going to stay focused on my race and stand on what I believe in, not for personal or political gain but because it’s something I’m passionate about.”

“I have proven leadership,” Sanderson said. “I was there when it was time to stop corporal punishment. I was there on the bullying issue. I’m innovative, and I’m looking forward to working with the business community. I have the ability to work across party lines, with people from all different backgrounds, socioeconomic status and political ideology, and my military service is pertinent to understanding our children coming from military families.”

Chambers has co-campaign managers: retired Columbus Technical College president Bob Jones and retired Blanchard Elementary School principal Rochelle Jones. CertusBank senior relationship manager Stacy Faison is her treasurer. Nate Sanderson has listed himself as his campaign manager and former Muscogee County Republican Party treasurer Kevin F. Earley as his treasurer.

As for Ditchfield’s estimate of needing $35,000 to run a successful county-wide campaign, Chambers simply said, “I’m going to raise as much money as I can.” Sanderson said, “You can do it with $10,000 or $15,000, depending on who you are. If you’re introducing yourself to the community, you’ll need more. But if you have name recognition and have touched people’s lives, that gives you identity and legitimacy that money can’t buy.”

Ditchfield filed Thursday his intent to accept campaign contributions. Chambers’ most recent campaign contribution disclosure report, filed Feb. 5, shows she has raised a total of $19,069.47 and has $14,294.12 in cash on hand. Sanderson’s report, filed Feb. 4, shows he has raised a total of $1,000 and has $760.52 in cash on hand.

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