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Let the grudge matches begin
(chart courtesy Bud Rosser)

IT SEEMS THAT the number of candidates for elected office rises in direct proportion to the number of dire challenges a community faces.

I guess in order to function properly, democracy needs a few thrill-seekers every now and then.

During this troubled time in Savannah history - with the economy shaky and racial tensions at possibly their worst point since desegregation - every City office but one is contested in this year's elections, with many of the campaigns having a distinctly personal and combative nature.

Arguably Savannah's most popular politician, alderman Tony Thomas is the lone officeholder running unopposed. But that hasn't stopped him from plastering huge re-election signs all over his southside district.

(It's called "image advertising" when corporations do things like that; I actually think it's a smart move on Thomas's part).

Of course, Thomas has the luxury of running in a fairly racially and culturally homogeneous district. Downtown Savannah, on the other hand, is gerrimandered to ensure that it never has adequate representation (a point that was brought up in last week's mayoral forum at the Visitors Center, documented in this week's issue by Jessica Leigh Lebos.)

Currently split almost exactly in half between the First and Second Aldermanic Districts, the historic district as a whole must depend on the good graces of city council members who almost inevitably derive the bulk of their votes from outside the historic district itself.

In other words, despite its influence and importance, Savannah's historic district is essentially disenfranchised.

(Note to current and prospective downtown small business owners: This means you. Wonder no more why you're so often treated as if you're carriage tour horse poop on the bottom of the City's shoes.)

Current First District Alderman Van Johnson has two opponents between him and re-election, the most high-profile of whom is 24e owner Ruel Joyner, who was prompted to run largely because of the city manager debacle.

Joyner is currently under attack for a controversy regarding his residence; he claims he lives in an apartment above his store, while critics say he and his family actually reside outside city limits and should therefore be ineligible.

In any case, Joyner certainly must have anticipated this preemptive assault, and his candidacy appears so far to be within the letter of the law, if just barely.

District Two's alderwoman, Mary Osborne, faces a challenge from newbie Gretchen Ernest, who is motivated, among other things, out of concern for the possible corruption involved in Osborne's acceptance of a $50,000-plus flood settlement.

Savannah's two alderman-at-large spots are traditional springboards to the mayor's gavel, and this election year is no exception: Both Edna Jackson and Jeff Felser are vacating their seats for a run at the top job.

Rushing to fill Jackson's seat are three candidates, two of whom are also largely motivated by the city manager fiasco, Russ Sill and Carol Bell (who has actually sued the City for alleged age and race discrimination by City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney).

There are also three candidates vying for Felser's position, including former state rep Tom Bordeaux (Bill Gillespie and Clinton Young round out that field).

Of course, it's the mayoral race itself that is the biggest grudge melee promising the most fireworks. A crowded field of six, count ‘em, six candidates pretty much guarantees that the top two vote-getters will end up in a runoff election.

(One of the candidates is perennial local firebrand/gadfly James Dewberry. I'm not a big fan of Dewberry's, having been on the receiving end of one of his online jihads, but fair is fair. He's a legal candidate for the office and should be included in any mayoral debates and forums.)

For a quick one-stop glance at the offices and candidates, check out the accompanying chart courtesy of Bud Rosser.