When Columbus voters go to the polls this spring, they’ll have an eclectic mix of council candidates from which to choose.
Of the 19 people who officially qualified for city races this week to run for mayor or one of six Columbus Council seats up for grabs more than 50 percent are first-time candidates.
Those running for office include young professionals, business owners, a former broadcaster and at least one minister. One candidate for mayor listed his occupation as God/Jesus.
“Definitely, we are seeing a lot of newcomers entering the political process,” said Muscogee County Elections and Registration Director Nancy Boren in an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer. “We’re seeing a lot of younger people who are qualifying to run for office.”
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Boren said the number of contested races is a bit unusual for a local election.
“... Obviously, the mayor’s race is going to be contested because we don’t have an incumbent running,” she said. “... The other ones? I think people are just venturing out, thinking that they will try the political process.”
Qualifying ran from 9 a.m. Monday until noon Friday. The deadline to register to vote in the state primary and local nonpartisan elections is April 24. Advance in-person voting will be April 30 through May 18 in the City Services Center, 3111 Citizens Way. May 22 will be Election Day for those races.
When it’s all said and done, Columbus will have a new mayor to replace the outgoing Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who will leave office at the end of the year due to term limits. There also will be at least two new councilors on the dais, representing District 5 and District 10.
Charmaine Crabb, a local Realtor, is most likely a shoe-in for the position since she was the only candidate to jump into the race. The seat is now occupied by Councilor Mike Baker, who opted not to run for re-election.
The District 10 at-large seat became available when longtime Councilor Skip Henderson stepped down last month to run for mayor.
This week, Henderson officially qualified for the mayor’s race, along with five other candidates — Beth Harris, a former Muscogee County school board member; Danny Arencibia, a finance manager at Rivertown Ford; Charles Roberts, a TSYS operations analyst; Zeph Baker, who works in the social services field; and Winfred Shipman Jr., the candidate who listed his occupation as God/Jesus.
Harris, a retired educator, served as the District 8 school board representative for one term. In 2014, she lost her seat to Frank Myers, a local attorney now running for re-election.
Baker has had three unsuccessful bids for elected office. He first ran for mayor in 2010, losing to Tomlinson in a runoff. In 2014, he lost against Councilor Jerry Pops Barnes for the District 1 seat.
Baker also ran unsuccessfully against longtime State Rep. Calvin Smyre in 2008.
This year’s mayoral race has already produced some interesting moments.
In his bid for mayor, Roberts resorted to unconventional means in an effort to raise the $1,950 needed to qualify.
“Charlie for Mayor...a date with the Mayor to be tonight is a measly $500!” he posted on Facebook this week, peddling a night out at Ben’s Chop House.
“I am so thankful for those who have believed in me thus far. Many have given of their time and talents, their families, and money...,” he posted Wednesday. “... That being said I must have 600 more dollars by Friday as I've already been able to raise 1300 thanks to the handful of supporters who have given so far.”
Roberts, Baker and Shipman all qualified Friday.
Henderson’s former council seat has attracted three candidates, one of whom will be elected in a special election to complete the remaining two years of his term. Those who qualified to run for the position are Tollie Strode Jr., a project manager; John House, a retiree; and Amy Askew Bryan, executive vice president for the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
House ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012, losing to incumbent Democrat Sanford Bishop in the General Election. He and Strode are both retired Army officers.
The number of new councilors elected to office could rise depending on the outcome of the District 1, District 3, District 7 and District 9 races, where incumbents Jerry “Pops” Barnes, Bruce Huff, Evelyn ‘Mimi’ Woodson and Judy Thomas are running for re-election, respectively.
Running for the District 1 council seat against Barnes is the Rev. Gregory Blue, founder of Columbus-based Body of Christ Church International.
In District 3, Huff faces opposition from Juanita Upshaw, a home health-care tech.
In District 7, those challenging Woodson are Jeremy Scott Hobbs, director of Colgay Pride, and Sia Etemadi, a local residential designer and former president of the Historic District Preservation Society.
Challenging Thomas for the District 9 at-large council seat is Regina “Reggie” Liparoto, a communications educator and former Columbus television and radio personality.
In all four races, both incumbents and challengers qualified to run.
Muscogee County State Judge Andy Prather also qualified in his bid for re-election.