It’s been a tense, amusing, and occasionally ugly campaign season down here in Savannah. And now we get another month of it as three races head to a Dec. 1 runoff.
I can’t possibly recap all the issues that figured prominently in Tuesday’s vote, which attracted a typically anemic turnout. Violent crime is up and has the city on edge; the former police chief is in prison; the current chief Jack Lumpkin has been hailed as a savior by the incumbents who hired him; the city’s poverty rate is higher today than it was 30 years ago despite booming business at the hotels, the ports, SCAD, Gulfstream, etc.; innumerable issues are languishing on the city’s plate; and the decade-old city-county police merger still hasn’t been finalized and is now on life support (though perhaps brain dead). (I mentioned a few of these issues in my live blog of the results.)
Mayor Edna Jackson, who handily won a runoff in 2011 with 57 percent of the vote, took just 44 percent on Tuesday against a not-especially-strong field. It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of her stewardship of the city. Former Chatham County Commissioner and business owner Eddie DeLoach, who entered the race relatively late, took 42 percent and will face Jackson in the runoff. Author and agitator Murray Silver was a powerful presence at the debates, but he managed just 12 percent, while Louis Wilson took 2 percent.
DeLoach can’t afford any more campaign woes like the viral video of young volunteers creepily burning Jackson campaign signs while chanting “RIP Edna”, and Jackson can’t afford to keep seeming so weary of it all.
Of the eight other council races, the incumbents handily won three of them: Carol Bell for Alderman At-Large Post 1, Van Johnson in District 1, and Tony Thomas in District 6, who surprised me by getting 59 percent against three credible challengers. John Hall beat Kim Dulek 54-45 in District 3, but one has to be impressed with Dulek’s performance; she is a relative newcomer to the city and was a white candidate challenging a well-known black incumbent in a district that’s over 70 percent African American. In District 5, incumbent Estella Shabazz eked out a 52-48 win in a race with pathetically low turnout — Shabazz was reelected with just 1,435 votes.
In District 4, which includes Ardsley Park and other areas sometimes described as “midtown,” former police spokesperson and former Savannah Morning News publisher Julian Miller took an eye-popping 71 percent against incumbent Mary Ellen Sprague, who might have sealed her fate when she released a campaign ad using a photo of herself with Chief Lumpkin.
District 2 was significantly redrawn after the 2010 Census and now includes nearly all of the oldest parts of the city, including the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods south of Forsyth Park. The changes proved too much on Tuesday for incumbent Mary Osborne, who managed just 29 percent of the vote. Downtown resident Bill Durrence took an impressive 44 percent, but he still has some work to do in the runoff. Political newcomer Detric Leggett ran a high-minded campaign and took 23 percent, but the Leggett story might not be over, since the Osborne campaign was distributing flyers on Tuesday, apparently illegally, immediately outside at least one polling place. I don’t know what will happen if Leggett lodges an official complaint, but I hope he does it.
The flyer in question was one version of a campaign ad that began appearing around town as early as Sunday. Paid for and distributed by the Edna Jackson and Brian Foster campaigns, the flyers endorsed all city council incumbents — a tactic that might have shored up votes in some neighborhoods but one that also created a huge amount of ill will, especially for Foster, who had positioned himself as a reasonable, intelligent, and independent choice to fill the vacant Alderman At-Large Post 2 seat.
In that citywide Post 2 race, Foster — a retired bank president who picked up several key endorsements — ended up leading the six-candidate field with 37 percent, so he’s headed to a runoff against Alicia Blakely (27 percent), a longshorewoman, 20-year military veteran, anti-violence activist, and self-described “drum major for justice.”
Those runoffs for Mayor, District 1, and Alderman At-Large are going be contentious, and all could become more racially divisive than Tuesday’s election was.
You can find lots more in today’s Savannah Morning News.