BOTTOMS UP, y’all. It’s a good thing voters approved Sunday retail alcohol sales last week. We’ll need every possible day of drinking to dull the pain of the other election results.
The people have spoken — or the thirty percent of voters that bothered to show up, anyway — and they chose... more of the same.
After all the hype, all the controversy, all the buildup, only three out of ten of you went to the polls.
To the seven out of ten that didn’t: I hope whatever you were doing instead of voting was really important, or at least a hell of a lot of fun. Because the next four years may not be much fun at all.
The two most controversial incumbents, Van Johnson and Mary Osborne, crushed challengers Ruel Joyner and Gretchen Ernest with vote totals that mirrored those districts’ racial demographics very closely.
In the end, Joyner’s considerable social media presence couldn’t overcome the fact that many of his most enthusiastic supporters lived outside District One and couldn’t vote for him no matter how much they may have wanted to.
To put the dismal turnout in perspective: Joyner received 538 votes. That’s not a typo: Five hundred and thirty eight.
At last count Joyner had 3,269 Facebook friends. You do the math!
The only incumbent ousted was Larry Stuber of District Three. Ironically, Stuber was also one of the only City Council incumbents with an iota of real–world business experience, and one of the few who could point to tangible improvements he’d brought to his constituents.
Stuber lost by — wait for it — 17 votes. (There will be a recount.)
While the above electoral outcomes were clearly decided along racial lines — don’t shoot the messenger, folks, I’m just telling you how it is — you certainly can’t make a similar criticism of the mayoral race.
In that case voters had plenty of choices, with a candidate for pretty much every persuasion and plenty of racial diversity.
But again, many voters chose the easy option of going with longtime City Council incumbent and heavy mayoral favorite Edna Jackson.
Considering the huge support Jackson received from the usual local machines, including the NAACP, the old guard Democrats, and the Chamber of Commerce, I actually thought she underperformed by getting “only” 37 percent of the six–way vote.
She faces Jeff Felser in a Dec. 6 runoff, and we’ll give you more coverage in the weeks to come.
While local Democrats continued their bold slouch toward mediocrity — with a big assist from proud apathy — local Republicans appeared to have gone completely AWOL.
When Savannah’s leading Republican, Eric Johnson — architect of the GOP takeover of Georgia politics during his time in state office, as well as a literal architect in real life — endorsed Edna Jackson, I knew funny business was afoot.
Leaving aside the fact that Johnson lives in Southbridge and can’t even vote for Savannah mayor, the surreal nature of the ultimate local Republican endorsing a liberal Democrat told me that certain understandings had likely been reached and money was likely at stake.
In short, just business as usual. The oldest business, one is tempted to say...
Speaking of Republicans, there was only one bona fide Republican in the mayoral race, Ellis Cook. And he managed only 2766 votes, not even 13 percent of the total.
Most local Republicans live in unincorporated Chatham and can’t vote in city elections, but I guarantee you there’s more than 2766 Republicans in city limits.
Judging by the furious local Republican response to Eric Johnson’s endorsement of Edna Jackson, I can’t believe he actually swayed votes to Jackson — probably the opposite.
So questions remain: Why didn’t more local Republicans vote for Cook, the only Republican running for mayor? Did conservative-friendly Floyd Adams really siphon off that many Republican votes? Did the lack of opposition for Tony Thomas in his mostly Republican district hurt turnout for Cook there?
We’ll never know the answers. But we do know that after the overwhelming alderman–at–large victory of Carolyn Bell, who has sued the City for what she alleges is discrimination by City Manager Rochelle Small–Toney, there’s pretty much a 100 percent stone cold lock that we’ll see four years of her head–butting with Small–Toney.
That may or may not be a bad thing, depending on what you think of the city manager.
Regardless of the election results, many Savannahians at this point will raise a glass to the departure of Mayor Otis Johnson. He began his tenure with such promise, but ended it with a controversy over Small-Toney’s hiring in which he indulged in what appeared to be a blatant appeal to racial prejudice — or at minimum, an outmoded and counterproductive obsession with identity politics.
Harsh accusation, yes. But when you go into a church, as Johnson did earlier this year, and speak from the pulpit about the “58 percent” (meaning Savannah’s African American majority) and say in other settings that you’d like a city manager that “looks like me,” you bring such accusations onto yourself.
(Johnson is scheduled to speak in another church Nov. 27 at a NAACP meeting, during which he is likely to strongly endorse Edna Jackson in the runoff. It will be interesting to hear if he uses similarly stark terms from that pulpit.)
Savannah is always on the razor’s edge with regards to race relations. Much of that is due to historic injustices based on decades of slavery and segregation. And frankly much of it is due to cynical manipulation of those longstanding grievances by politicians for less–than–honorable ends.
Otis Johnson’s legacy surely includes a large helping of fighting those historic injustices. (And to also give credit where it’s due, he has done much to support — and most importantly, to adequately fund — arts and culture in Savannah).
Indeed, so effectively did Mayor Johnson fight racial inequality that as he leaves office he can boast of leveraging the power of that African American “58 percent” into about 98 percent of all important positions in the City of Savannah, a far larger proportion than the actual black share of the population.
Unfortunately a part of Johnson’s legacy also sits squarely in the cynical, manipulative camp, much to the detriment of everyone who lives here, including those he claims to support.
Johnson may be on his way out, but unfortunately his combative attitude will likely live on, as evidenced by the words of his protege Van Johnson, who virtually defined the phrase “sore winner” on election night.
In a foreshadowing of the kind of acrimony likely to come over the next four years, the District One alderman — who enjoyed the full support of the Savannah Morning News, which endorsed him and devoted much space to Joyner’s residency and tax struggles — spoke of the “divisive, deceitful, derogatory” actions of Joyner and his supporters.
And that was in Van’s “victory” speech. Oy...
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