86 Days Until Election Day
All runners in the local election will begin lining up on the starting line in three weeks. Candidates will have from August 31st until September 4 to enter the race by filing forms and paying entrance fees at the Clerk of Council office in City Hall. To date, more than two dozen challengers are scheduled to file and most of them have never been to City Hall before for any reason. Most challengers have zero experience in the political realm. Some of them have yet to raise the money to pay for their name to appear on the ballot.
Some of the races are shaping up to be interesting contests:
Mayor Pro Tem Van Johnson has his hands full with Bernetta Lanier, who has the solid backing of the ILA. There are places in this world where Van is thought to be absolutely unbeatable. But not around the Lanier household, where they point to the rise in violent crime and rampant poverty as two key indications that Alderman Johnson has done nothing for his district. My friends in the first tell me that Ms. Lanier is more than just some community organizer with nothing better to do with her spare time. Just because she lacks name recognition on your side of town doesn't mean that the people of her district don't know her, too.
Mary Osborne is being challenged by Detric Leggett, Barry Gale and Bill Durrence. This race perfectly illustrates The Tale of Two Cities, black and white, rich and poor. Leggett, who runs a barber shop out of the front room of his house on 33rd when he isn't assisting in the operating rooms of Memorial Hospital and shepherding the flock at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, is taking it to the Waters Avenue corridor where he is known up and down the street as a solid citizen. He and Mary will be carving up the black vote while Gale and Durrence-- former members of the board of the same community association-- will divvy up the white. Gale is a former prosecutor from LA, married into a prominent local family; Durrence recently retired as staff photog at the SMN. Gale has the support of Savannah's Jewish community (many of whom live outside his district but still contribute to his campaign); Durrence's signs appear on the front lawns of prominent historic district homes that do not typically stoop to stumping for candidates.
John Hall is being challenged by Kim Dulek. Word reaches me that another name is sitting on the proverbial fence as to whether he will join the fray. Attorney Tom Branch, outed recently in the news as a challenger, has opted out.
Mary Ellen Sprague was blindsided last week with the announcement that Julian Miller had retired from SCMPD just to run for alderman and help out the police department from above. That Miller is backed by Edna Jackson's political ATM machine has caused tongues to wag about what's happened among Team Edna: Sprague has long been an unabashed Jacksonian, appearing arm in arm and in lockstep with the mayor at events all over town. Miller is running on the sole platform of more police and more pay for police. Will Cubbedge is also running for Sprague's seat. Armed with a law degree, he is all about Transparency, Accountability and Infrastructure. He is a staunch Catholic and is a compassionate--if not reluctant-- candidate.
Estella Shabazz is opposed by Shaundra McKeithen, who was bounced out of Building Permits after blowing the whistle on an embezzlement scandal and has decided to change a corrupt system from another vantage point by running for council. Shaundra gives votes a very clear choice in moving away from a radicalism that has failed to take root in Savannah in spite of the efforts of the Shabazz family to foment it. Personally speaking, I like the idea of a watchdog whistleblower on city council.
Tony Thomas is being challenged by political upstart Tim Ferguson. Thomas is to the southside what Van Johnson is to downtown and is thought to be unbeatable; Ferguson says think again. Tim is a former combat veteran who has a bone to pick with his alderman, a straight arrow aiming at Tony's profligate lifestyle. This could get ugly.
Carol Bell is challenged by Rudy Gasdik, who for many years owned businesses on River Street before relocating to City Market, and Linda Bryant, the mother of a young man who was murdered in Savannah recently. Here we have an incendiary outspoken critic and a grieving mother with two very different takes on local government and it will be interesting to watch which of these candidates will drive the most voters to the polls.
Savannah has the most interesting contest among five very different candidates vying for the seat vacated by Tom Bordeaux. Former banker Brian Foster, Attorney Joe Steffen, Armstrong student Antwan Lang, Rev. Lind Taylor and activist Alicia Blakely are squaring off in a tag-team event to rival anything ever staged by the WWA.
That leaves the mayor's race. "Savannah's Donald Trump", an "unvetted renegade" is taking on the incumbent.
That would be, um, me.