The municipal elections might still be four months away, but the campaign season is getting into full swing. Gardens of colorful candidate signs have bloomed at various intersections, while the candidates themselves zig zag from neighborhood meetings to meet and greets.
Last week, several mayoral candidates attended a meet and greet event at a rather unlikely location – the Five Points liquor store on Skidaway Road.
The event was organized by the store's owners Tom Paxton and Dee Bowers in order to give “regular folks” an opportunity to speak with candidates in a less formal environment.
The sight of local politicians mulling around a table by the cash register came as a surprise to many customers. Several seemed concerned, turning around and heading back out the door.
“We definitely didn’t expect that,” Paxton said during the event.
There was some good dialogue, though.
Among the topics of conversation were the fate of Savannah River Landing (expect more problems before any substantive progress), food trucks and workforce development programs.
“This is about accessibility,” said Jeff Felser about why he chose to attend. Also present were Regina Thomas, Floyd Adams and Ellis Cook’s wife Christy (he was attending a funeral, but she attended in his place).
Edna Jackson had a scheduling conflict and didn’t attend.
As much as it might have been about talking to constituents, the crowded field of candidates, all of whom boast past political experience at the state or local level, are searching for an edge over the competition.
Thomas said “inclusivity” will be the key to success, particularly following the divisiveness of the City Manager hiring process and other issues council has faced.
There is a “misconception about what the mayor’s job is,” says the former State Senator.
“The buck stops on the second floor [in Council’s chamber], not the fourth floor [at the City Manager’s office].”
“It’s about believability,” says Floyd Adams, who served as mayor prior to the current administration and thinks he’s got what it takes for another go–round. “It’s no ego trip. It’s about delivery of services.”
Currently serving on the school board, Adams would like to see the city and the school system develop a better working relationship, particularly for a joint program that would provide job training to re–engage high school drop outs.
That’s as far as he wants to go into specific ideas though until closer to the election, a sentiment echoed by the rest of the field as well.
There are words like “change” being thrown around, but most candidates want to play their hands close to their vests until after the summer for fear that their opponents might undermine their platforms.
The other side of the coin is that with several more months of campaigning and rhetoric that’s short on specifics, candidates risk losing the attention of people already exhausted by the perceived ineffectiveness of local and national politics.
Without much substance from politicians yet, but no shortage of posturing, the most important lesson might be that political campaigns are still influenced by people outside the political sphere.
Bowers and Paxton saw an opportunity and made it happen by reaching out and inviting the candidates to their store without involving bureaucracy.
“People were calling all week,” said Bowers. “A lot of them were surprised we could do this without going through a city department.”
Although a few community centers and neighborhood associations have already started hosting candidate forums, there is a need for more opportunities between now and November for people to get to know the candidates, particularly as they start unveiling specific action plans in late August or early September.