Analysis: Endorsements not key in mayor's election, vote tallies show

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comMay 24, 2014 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Poll workers LaVerne Jackson, center left, and Ruby Tucker, center right, help Oscar Walton, 80, at the end of the his voting procedure Tuesday at the Wynnton Road United Methodist Church precinct. "I want to make sure my vote counts," Walton said. 05.20.14

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

During her run for re-election, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson seemed besieged by formidable opposition.

Her challenger, Colin Martin, came out swinging when he announced his candidacy in January. And sitting front and center were several high-profile black officials, many of them disgruntled by her leadership.

But when the polls closed Tuesday night, Tomlinson defeated Martin with an overwhelming lead in most precincts throughout the city, even at Wynnbrook Baptist Church, in Martin's north Columbus home district, where Tomlinson nabbed 61 percent of the vote, or 609 votes, over Martin's 387, or 39 percent.

Martin's childhood connections to south Columbus, which he played up prominently in the black community, also didn't get him very far. While he ran neck and neck with Tomlinson in some north Columbus precincts, even winning a few, he lost miserably in precincts south of Macon Road -- considered by many as the line that divides the city by predominantly black and white neighborhoods.

At St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, a majority black precinct, Tomlinson crushed Martin 4 to 1 with 1,088 to 258 votes. In Oakland Park, where Martin grew up, Tomlinson won nearly 2 to 1 at 65 percent.

In all, Tomlinson won 20 of the 27 precincts in Columbus, capturing 63 percent of the vote. Martin won seven precincts, all in north Columbus.

When it came to advance in-person voting, Tomlinson averaged almost 70 percent.

Tomlinson said Friday that the results show that voters elect people based on their merits and not the influence of surrogates who try to get people to vote as a bloc based on race and other factors.

"What it says is we really are a community of meritocracy," she said. "You're really voting on the candidate and that person's record of accomplishments, vision and relationship with the voters. And the reason that you know that is that, particularly in this race, we had a high degree of political surrogacy, with other candidates coming out and endorsing and so forth."

Elected officials who supported Martin during the race included Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton-Bishop, Muscogee County Tax Commissioner Lula Huff, Muscogee County Marshal Greg Countryman, Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr and Columbus Councilors Bruce Huff, Gary Allen and Glenn Davis.

"What's interesting is for each of those endorsements that had a district, we won those districts. All of them," Tomlinson said. "For each of those endorsers that were county-wide, we won that constituency. … If you look at predominantly African-American, predominantly minority precincts, we won those by 77 percent.

"I think what it shows is that in Columbus, there really aren't any kingmakers," she added.

Councilor Huff said Friday that the mayor won, and now it's time to move forward.

"There were well-run campaigns on both sides and she did very well," he said. "I'm not one of those people that badgers people and things. I have my opinions. My side didn't win. Her side won. She's to be congratulated and we move forward. I mean, we all have to work together. It's just part of politics."

He said he's not surprised that the mayor did so well in south Columbus.

"As we got down the stretch, it became very evident the numbers would dictate how well each campaign did," he said.

"And the turnout was, I guess, around 25 percent or so, which was extremely low, and I think the experts will tell you that with a lower turnout it was going to favor the incumbent."

Martin couldn't be reached for comment, and some who opposed Tomlinson, such as Lula Huff and Countryman, declined to comment.

Other elections

Tomlinson isn't the only candidate who transcended race in last week's election. In the citywide election for Muscogee County School Board, Kia Chambers became the first black candidate to win the nine-member board's lone at-large seat. She will replace Cathy Williams, who didn't seek re-election.

In the race against Owen Ditchfield, a former educator who is white, and Nate Sanderson, former NAACP Columbus chapter president, Chambers won 52 percent of the vote, Ditchfield 31 percent and Sanderson 17 percent.

Chambers won all south Columbus precincts with an overwhelming lead. In north Columbus, she won five precincts in predominantly white areas.

The precincts were St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Psalmond Recreation Center, Blackmon Middle School and Fox Senior Center. Chambers won 43 percent at St. Andrews, 46 percent at Psalmond, 51 percent at Blackmon and 47 percent at Fox. Ditchfield won 41 percent, 38 percent, 32 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

Chambers also received 60 percent of the early votes compared to 25 percent for Ditchfield.

The Rev. Johnny Flakes III of Fourth Street Baptist Church said Chambers won because she appealed to a wide variety of voters as an educator and businesswoman who is committed to children.

"You had two African-Americans and a non-African-American in the race and usually when you have that type of mixture with the split of the votes sometimes the third candidate actually wins," he said. "But her message, 'Kia for Kids,' I think that resonated with people across the board. She got 50 percent of the vote and I think she will do a wonderful job."

While Chambers emerged as the clear winner in the at-large race, it was a different scenario in District 2. Incumbent John Wells, who faced three opponents, is headed to a July 21 runoff with John F. Thomas after Tuesday's election. Thomas defeated Wells in four out of five precincts. They include Britt David, where he won 34 percent of the votes, 42 percent at St. Peter, 33 percent at Cornerstone and 37 percent at St. Mark. Wells won 27 percent, 23 percent, 28 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

The precinct Wells won was Wynnbrook. He won 33 percent of the votes, compared to 32 percent for Thomas.

But Wells was able to squeak into a runoff with Thomas after early votes were added. Thomas won 40 percent of the early votes compared to Wells' 28 percent.

Moving forward

In terms of the mayoral race, Flakes, who supported Tomlinson during the election, said he thinks the mayor won because she has proven her ability to address the needs of residents across the city.

"She has reached out and shown that her promises are true in wanting to develop economically south Columbus, while not ignoring north Columbus," he said.

"I think the message that resonated is we're all one Columbus. So, it's not north or south, but really looking at economic growth and development for everyone.

"I think with the Super Walmart coming in, there's a tremendous indication that she did not forget about south Columbus but she continues to make every effort toward ensuring that businesses are coming there."

State Rep. Calvin Smyre, who supported the mayor, said Tomlinson had a record to run on and voters are smarter than what people usually give them credit for.

"They went to the polls and thought the city was going in the right direction and voted in that regard," he said.

"Being elected is no easy task. And being mayor is probably the most difficult position. And I've worked with about 10 mayors over the years and they've all told me of the challenges that they face as a city. We may not agree with all the decisions that are made, but the mayor has to make tough decisions. I think all of that came into play."

Smyre said the election is over and now it's time to return to governing and taking the city forward.

C.A. Hardmon, an activist who goes by the name Brother Love, was a strong critic of Tomlinson's before and during the election.

He said it's time for the community to come together.

"The primary election is over," he said. "For all those able to find it in themselves to do so, my advice is to put away the grudges and hard feelings, bury the hatchets and long knives, control your anger and check your disappointment, make the peace, pull together, and get on with the business of serving the people and making Columbus, Georgia, a better place for all people to live."

Tomlinson said it was a divisive election, but it's now in the past, as far as she's concerned.

"These elections are certainly a forgive-and-forget type of circumstance certainly in mind," she said.

"People do all kinds of things in the heat of the political election for political agenda, personal agenda, whatever it may be. How do we work going forward? We work project by project, opportunity by opportunity, like we've always done."

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