I FEEL Murray Silver’s pain.
The late but in no way surprising entry of another candidate into the Savannah mayoral race means that he isn’t the only challenger claiming the mantle of change agent.
What was once a simple binary A/B, Incumbent vs. Challenger decision is now suddenly fraught with overtones and accusations, loyalties and betrayal.
And yes, this being Savannah, questions of race.
But it was bound to happen. It was only a matter of time.
Silver declared his candidacy via Facebook around the beginning of the year. A prolific Facebook user with several pages and at least a pinkie finger in several more which support him, he’s followed up since then with an exhaustive daily chronicling of his views on the state of the City and things that can be done about it.
(So exhaustive, in fact, that some critics wonder whether he's running for mayor or compiling material for his next book.)
In a recent post about the upcoming release of his detailed platform, Silver writes, “You won’t find anything like it anywhere else. But I guarantee that my opponents will continue to cheat off my paper.”
The post doesn’t mention him by name, but it’s a clear response to the new candidacy of former Chatham County Commissioner Eddie DeLoach, a candidate decrying the same problems Silver and others have decried for months.
The message may be similar, but the practical difference, good or bad, is that DeLoach has a track record in office and more access to more influential donors.
But who owns the copyright to change?
The story of my professional life as an alt-weekly editor is being well ahead of the curve, only to see folks with more corporate connections later shamelessly co-opt our ideas when those ideas became more palatable to the mainstream.
That’s the life I’ve chosen. It is what it is. The explorer who plants the flag on the new island is never the one to run it.
Charting new waters has to be its own reward—or you’re voyaging for the wrong reasons.
Political change is likewise mostly a communal and cultural effort, and a hard thing to claim for one’s own exclusive platform. Especially when it's a popular message, as it seems to be this year.
The last serious change agent we had in this town, for better or worse, was former Mayor Otis Johnson, who was elected the first time with virtually zero funding and zero establishment backing, but with solid grassroots support.
Johnson’s campaign centered on two things: 1) His own impeccable credentials as an advocate for black empowerment and social justice, and 2) his underlying message that it was time to dismantle the white good ol’ boy network.
Say what you will about the impact of Otis Johnson’s two terms in office; I certainly have. In my view it had some disastrous effects which we're still dealing with today.
But another person might say Johnson accomplished what he intended, and did exactly what he said he’d do without misrepresentation.
The victim of vicious old-school Jim Crow racism in his youth, Johnson takes criticism from people like me in stride. I’ve briefly talked to him a couple of times since then and he remains confident and unflappable.
“I remember you. You threw a lot of knives at me back then,” he said to me once. “But you were just doing your job.”
Which is the perfect thing to say. And that resilience is why Johnson was reelected with 70 percent of the vote.
Contrast that with the backbiting in the mayoral challenge today, in which Silver’s old nemesis O.C. Welch conspicuously stood near the podium at DeLoach’s announcement last week, gloating on social media that "Murray is done."
Within hours, Silver responded with grim, unsubstantiated allegations—since deleted from his page—that he was offered thousands of dollars to quit the race.
This kind of gossipy discord, of course, only benefits one person: Mayor Jackson herself.
But Silver is right that Mayor Jackson also benefits the more challengers are in the race, splitting the pro-change vote.
And Savannah being what it is, she also benefits if there’s more than one white candidate in the race—since unfortunately people in this town still vote largely along color lines. (Don’t shoot the messenger! I wish it were different too.)
You see how many ways Jackson has to win? That’s the power of incumbency.
One thing I didn’t mention about Otis Johnson: He was elected when the mayor’s seat was open. No incumbent to run against. That too, was key.
The truth is it’s difficult to beat an incumbent even when all the stars align your way. Change is hard, and you can’t just flick a switch. Change has to come organically, from the culture.
And if the long and growing list of City Council challengers is any indication, the culture of Savannah certainly seems to have had its fill with the direction things are going, and is ready for some change.
In the end, that’s the story here—not behind-the-scenes jockeying over who lays claim to the mantle of change.
Here’s the thing: Every single incumbent is being challenged! In some cases by several challengers. That’s huge!
Some will win, some will lose. But six months ago all that seemed impossible.
The difference between winners and losers this November will likely hinge on who keeps their eye on the prize.