LEESBURG, Ga. -- The war of words surrounding the race for a vacant seat on the Leesburg City Council certainly stirred up interest in the position, as voter turnout increased by more than 40 percent over last year's general election totals.
But the results were pretty much the same for candidate Jeff Sexton, who was defeated 70-20 by veteran Councilman Richard Bush in 2009.
Political newcomer Rhonda Futch outpolled Sexton 95 votes to 32 to easily win the right to finish the unexpired term of former councilman Steve Kitchens.
"You always hope for this kind of results, but, yes, I'm a little surprised at the margin of victory," Futch said after vote totals were confirmed by the Lee elections office. "I think this shows that the people were receptive to the things I talked about during the campaign, and the voters didn't buy into all the negativity that (Sexton) was putting out there.
"I want to thank all the people in the community for their support and assure them that I will try to serve them as well as I can. I'm ready to get to work."
Sexton, who in the days leading up to the election increasingly attacked Futch, said he felt betrayed by some of the voters in the city who'd promised to back him.
"Some people flat-out lied to me," Sexton said. "There were people who promised me they were going to vote for me who didn't bother to show up. That's disappointing. I'll hurt over this for a couple of days, but I'll be all right.
"One thing you can believe is that I intend to go right back to doing what I've been doing. I'll be at the meetings, videotaping them. And here's what's going to happen: I'll be watching Rhonda like a hawk at these meetings, and I'll videotape her voting to raise taxes, because she's going to vote to raise taxes."
Futch, who has lived in Leesburg most of her life, said she felt good about the election Tuesday.
"I was really at peace," she said. "I felt that after praying about the decision (to run), God would have me where he wanted me to be. This vote shows that He has plans for me.
"This whole process has been an eye-opening experience. I've learned to be more patient. I'm not surprised that the election took an ugly turn over the last few days because (Sexton) has been campaigning negatively from the very beginning."
Futch and Sexton supporters got involved in an online war of words on The Albany Herald's website (albanyherald.com) in commenting about an election preview that appeared in Monday's edition of the newspaper. Futch even posted on the site herself in response to some of the comments made.
"I tried to stay away from that kind of thing," she said, "but some of the comments that were being made had no basis."
Sexton, meanwhile, accused Futch of turning the campaign negative.
"I expected her to try and turn things ugly," Sexton said. "This whole thing is about power and control for her. When she saw that I was pushing for open government, she started attacking."
The handwriting was etched clearly on the wall when election officials counted early ballots shortly after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Futch opened a 31-11 lead and increased the margin to 75 percent with the tabulation of the 85 votes cast Tuesday.
And while he was dealing with his second defeat in as many years, Sexton was not as adamant to predict he'd be back for another try as he was after last year's loss.
"I don't really know (if I'll run again) right now," he said. "I'll wait until June, July or August of next year and see how things go.
"One thing about this race, though, is that I did achieve my ultimate goal. I wanted to get people in this community active in the electoral process, and there were almost as many voters who turned out today as voted in the entire general election last year. I know I've been a factor."