Savannah votes for change — but not too much of it

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.

11 comments

  1. Ellynn says:

    We have missed you around here Bill. You need to stop in more often. Granted, you are a busy guy and all, but sometimes we need a little more coastal info.

  2. drjay says:

    liakakis/johnson was a similar race…and well, race won out in the runoff…also my interactions with silver supporters gives me the impression they will be the take their ball and go home type and not return for the runoff….my early uneducated prediction is that edna wins a squeaker, blakely wins a squeaker and durrence bucks my obvious trend and wins a squeker of his own…

    • Bill Dawers says:

      That all sounds plausible. This also reminds me of the Johnson/Liakakis race. Liakakis looked like he should have won the runoff, but once it became a two person race, lots of black voters — including some who must have voted for Liakakis the first time around — ended up voting for Johnson. I suspect that Foster will still take post 2, but that’s going to be close. Having gotten 44 percent in the general election, Durrence certainly should beat Osborne, but it could end up being tough.

  3. barstool69 says:

    Assuming a Durrence and Foster win, what do you see the council voting dynamics being with a DeLoach or Jackson win? Do you see there being changes to the status quo on any current issues (eg: merger, police, fairgrounds, alcohol/food truck ordinances?).

    • Bill Dawers says:

      Let me begin by saying that everything I’m about to say could be totally wrong …

      If Durrence and Foster win, they would join Miller as brand new voices on council — and would all likely begin raising serious questions about the work of the city manager’s office. Tony Thomas is already at that point of questioning Stephanie Cutter’s ongoing unemployment, so then it’s just a matter of Bell or Johnson joining the group. So, even if Jackson wins, I suspect that we’ll see some real pressure on the city manager to do a better job, immediately, or to retire.

      If DeLoach wins, Cutter’s departure is all but assured. Probably sooner rather than later.

      If Jackson wins and if not much seems to be changing, a few of the sitting aldermen will start pushing harder on the mayor and on city staff for faster or different resolutions of many issues. It seems that both Bell and Johnson have their eyes on a run for mayor in 2019, and they’re going to have to have something to run on. The current dithering damages everyone.

      So I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll see some progress, especially if Durrence wins (which he should). I think either Foster or Blakely will be more proactive than Bordeaux has been in the at-large seat.

  4. Ellynn says:

    I think the city and the county are going to get less status quo on policing issues, which has more to do with Miller being elected and the county say “show us the cost data and then we can discuss how much is really our fair share”.

    The other issues have multiple layers of who wants what and why.

  5. drjay says:

    also i’m sure there is some reason i’m not privy to, but i have never understood why we have both a sheriffs dept and county police in chatham, every where else i’ve ever lived the county was policed by sheriff’s deputies…

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