Phenix City Councilman Jimmy Wetzel suffered an electoral thrashing at the polls Tuesday, as voters handed political newcomer Chris Blackshear a landslide victory over one of the city’s most loathed politicians.
In his four years in power, Wetzel ruffled more feathers than he could keep track of, controlling a majority voting bloc that seemed to generate controversy at every other City Council meeting. But few predicted the degree of dissatisfaction that was revealed when the polls closed Tuesday night.
Unofficial tallies showed Blackshear garnering some 71 percent of the vote and winning resounding victories in all three of the city’s precincts. He received 3,238 votes to Wetzel’s 900.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to the community,” said Blackshear, 38, who works in mid-level management at TSYS. “This whole community, they went to the polls screaming for change. As of right now you will have zero returning councilmembers.”
Blackshear spoke in an interview just a few feet from the site of Albert Patterson’s assassination. It was the state attorney general-elect’s shooting death in 1954 that prompted the cleanup in Phenix City, Blackshear noted: “Here we are today with a complete cleanup of the City Council,” he said. “Now the hard part starts.”
A second Wetzel challenger, Johnny Barfield, received 408 votes — about 9 percent, He said he was disappointed, but called the campaign a learning experience. “The citizens have spoken,” he said, “so there’s nothing else to be said.”
The vote capped an energized political season in which the electorate seemed to demand change in city government. Wetzel had become the face of the City Council, pushing through a series of tax increases and capital projects that many citizens deemed too costly.
“Today the citizens yelled out very loudly, ‘Enough!’” said Larry E. DiChiara, the Phenix City Schools superintendent who has butted heads publicly with Wetzel and tried to be the first in line at his precinct Tuesday to vote him out. “Often times citizens are reluctant to stand up and fight because of fear of being bullied, bruised, or battered. Today, in the safety of the polling booth, the citizens threw a knockout punch.”
For his part, Wetzel said that he and his fellow incumbents had been “plastered” by the opposition but said he was “fine with it.”
“I’ve enjoyed the last four years,” Wetzel said. “I’ve had a great time. I think we’ve done a lot of great things for the city. Obviously, the people want to go a different direction and I’m fine with that. No hard feelings, and I support the folks coming in.”