THIS IS A confusing election season in Savannah, and I don’t just mean the increasingly surreal presidential circus.
For example, there was a special election April 26 to fill the Georgia House of Representatives seat made vacant by the unfortunate passing of the late Bob Bryant.
Carl Gilliard was victorious against Alicia Blakely in that special election. But Gilliard will only fill that seat for a month, until he faces Blakely again in the May 24 Democratic primary for the very same seat! (As well as another declared candidate, Josey Sheppard.)
Indeed, in an echo of the century when Georgia was a one-party state —when only the Democratic primary really mattered—this month’s Democratic primary will essentially decide the future of a number of key slots, rendering the November general election a moot point for many.
Most notable of these is the race for Chatham County Commission Chairman, with incumbent Al Scott taking on current 3rd District Commissioner Tony Center.
Technically the County Commission races are partisan contests, but because no Republican is declared, the winner this May between those two Democrats will be the Chairman.
(Adding to the complexity: The main reason Center is running at all is because his residence was drawn out of his own district in the middle of his term. He couldn’t run for reelection if he wanted to.)
Another hugely important Blue-on-Blue contest is the primary battle for 5th District County Commission, between incumbent Yusuf Shabazz and challengers Shaundra Smith McKeithen and Tabitha Odell, wife of incumbent Recorders Court Judge Harris Odell, himself a former County Commissioner.
As many of you will recall, McKeithen is fresh off a narrow loss to Yusuf’s wife, Estella Shabazz, for City Council. This race is shaping up to be nearly as bitterly contested as that one.
You might recall Harris Odell came under fire recently from Police Chief Jack Lumpkin for the often surprisingly low bond amounts he has set for some violent offenders.
In Chatham County District Two, long-time incumbent James Holmes is taking on challenger Detric Leggett, who narrowly missed a runoff last year with vanquished former City Alderwoman Mary Osborne.
The man who defeated Osborne, current Alderman Bill Durrence, has endorsed Leggett in his latest bid.
As with the Chairman’s race, these battles will also be settled by the Democratic primary, with the November vote being essentially a formality.
But that’s not all that’s being settled this month. Several, but not all, Savannah-Chatham School Board races are being decided. (Our School Board opts to settle their races in the spring, rather than the typical November general election scenario.)
This year there are two contested School Board seats.
Connie Hall, wife of Savannah Alderman John Hall, defends her District 3 seat against Rose Harper.
The open District 7 seat is between Joe Winburn and Michael Johnson.
In an all-too common development, two School board members are running unopposed, Julie M. Wade and Dionne Hoskins. (There are also two unopposed County Commission incumbents, Helen Stone and Pat Farrell.)
No offense to Ms. Wade and Ms. Hoskins —and it’s certainly not their fault they’re running unopposed—but I humbly submit that our democracy is better served when incumbents are routinely challenged.
In some ways the School Board is our most important local elected body. They not only make far-reaching decisions regarding our children’s education, they manage the pursestrings of the single largest taxing entity in the County.
If you want to impact local lives and policy most directly, running for School Board is probably the quickest way to do so.
While most folks find elections for judges incredibly boring – if they indeed have any inkling that some judges are elected, not appointed—there are several interesting races this year.
The most high-profile race is 20-year-plus incumbent John E. “Pancho” Morse Jr. defending his Superior Court seat against challenger Peter Muller. (We have a very interesting piece in this issue with one point of view on that race.)
Other judicial contests include former Alderman Tom Bordeaux’s bid for the open Probate Court seat along with R. Dennis King, and the contest for Clerk of Superior Court between Tammie Mosley and Brenda Kennedy, both Democrats.
If it’s good ol’ fashioned Red vs. Blue, Republican vs. Democrat action you’re looking for, you’ll have to settle for.... the County Coroner’s race, between Bill Wessinger, Republican, and Lillian Loretz-Williams, Democrat.
Yep, that’s right! In Chatham County, the Coroner is a partisan political position. You have to be either a Democratic Coroner or a Republican Coroner.
While that odd fact is fertile ground for jokes—does a Democrat Coroner refuse to do autopsies on Republicans, or vice versa?—there is actually a somewhat understandable reason for it.
See, Coroner is an extremely powerful position. Arguably one might even say it’s the most powerful position there is.
You’ve heard the phrase, “they know where the bodies are buried?”
Well, the Coroner literally knows where the bodies are buried.
More to the point, the Coroner often gets to rule on cause of death—and whether or not foul play is involved!
I leave it to your imagination to guess why political parties historically might have wanted to maintain very tight control over decisions such as those........
Anyway, while most people are likely to be totally focused on the almost certain matchup in November between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, our future locally is likely to hinge much more on the outcome of this month’s election, on May 24.