With supporters waving signs and holding colorful balloons, Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson kicked off her re-election campaign Saturday to lead the city for another four years.
"This city has never been more alive than it is right now," Tomlinson told a crowd of more than 300 at her campaign headquarters on Macon Road. "That is an irrefutable fact. Progress does not happen by accident."
Signs already dot many neighborhoods in the city as the mayor officially announced her campaign two days before qualifying opens for local offices. She already faces announced opposition from Colin Martin, a former executive with the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
Qualifying opens at 9 a.m. Monday and ends at noon Friday at the Columbus Elections and Registration Office.
From economic development to jobs and crime, Tomlinson highlighted what has been accomplished during more than three years in office.
On her list: Columbus is one of the 100 best places to live in the United States, the city has reclaimed its status as the second largest city in Georgia, and the "brain drain" has been reversed with the best and brightest no longer leaving to look elsewhere for opportunities. "Other people's young folks are leaving their cities to come to Columbus to study and to work," she said.
Recognizing efforts by Hostess, Pratt & Whitney, WellPoint and other companies, she said Columbus unemployment has dropped from 9.8 to 7.6 percent. "We
are creating jobs in Columbus," she said.
When it comes to crime, the average rates from 2011-2013 are the lowest in 10 years, she said. While crime may be down on average, she noted that more work needs to be done. "We are here to make sure crime is zero," she said. "That is our goal."
The city's Parks and Recreation Department, once marred by scandal in the director's office, has been voted the best in the state.
And the city's whitewater course on the Chattahoochee River has been recognized by USA Today as one of the top man-made adventures in the world.
"In Columbus, we do big things," she said. "Are we ready to start treading water? Absolutely not. Mediocrity is not in Columbus, Georgia's vocabulary. We have only just begun."
The city still faces challenges with a projected $7 million budget deficit looming at the end of June.
"We have to retool our budget and city structure to meet today's needs and opportunities," Tomlinson said. "We know the answer to the questions. We know how to solve our challenges because we have solved things."
Sam Wellborn, a board member for the Georgia Department of Transportation, pointed to the mayor for making things happen.
"We have more good things going on in Columbus than ever before," he said. "Teresa is the majority -- not all -- the reasons so many good things have happened. She has done an outstanding job in the first four years. We need her."
Marc Upshaw, a former basketball standout at Columbus High and co-founder of the SaMarc Dream & Achieve Foundation, said his heart is still in Columbus even though he lives in Atlanta.
"Years ago when we started the SaMarc Foundation, the first person on the doorstep was Teresa Tomlinson even before she was mayor," he said. "She was talking to the kids, inspiring and motivating those kids. It made a lasting impression on me. She has work undone."
Other officials attending the event included Mayor Pro-tem Evelyn Pugh, Councilor Jerry "Pops" Barnes, state Rep. Calvin Smyre and Rep. Carolyn Hugley.