Mayoral candidates B.J. Fletcher, Dorothy Hubbard and John White listen to the rules of Monday night's forum at the Municipal Auditorium.
ALBANY -- The end is near.
More than nine months after Albany Mayor Willie Adams announced he would not seek reelection, the city is poised to put a fresh face behind the gavel for the first time in eight years.
However the election Tuesday shakes out, they'll be at least one new personality directing the course of city policy for the next four years.
Using one-on-one interviews, information gleaned from candidate conversations with The Albany Herald Editorial Board and a multitude of other sources including campaign literature and public speeches, The Herald has compiled profiles on each of the three mayoral candidates and vignettes on the seven other candidates running for commission seats.
Charismatic and driven, local business owner and restaurant manager B.J. Fletcher has developed a following over the years in Albany based largely on her business acumen, energy and common-sense approach to issues, she says.
Born in 1956 in Albany to two dairy farmers, Fletcher moved to Lowndes County at 8 and attended Lowndes public schools and went to college at Valdosta State University before coming back to Albany and going to Darton College and Albany Technical College.
In 2002, she opened and began managing the Albany Ole Times Buffet restaurant on Dawson Road and currently owns or manages four Albany businesses.
Her platform is simple: Jobs.
In a town where unemployment is in double-digits and the poverty rate is better than 35 percent, Fletcher says cultivating and growing quality jobs for the unemployed or under-employed will reduce crime and increase the general quality of life for people in Albany.
"I don't want to be another Detroit," she told The Herald's editorial board. "When Cooper closed, it devastated the region, but Cooper could've been saved if the city would've worked a little harder with them."
"Jobs are connected to everything. Education, crime, poverty, it's all related," Fletcher said.
Fletcher previously issued a challenge to businesses in Albany to each hire one person.
"If we could do that, the 12,000 unemployed people out there would be back to work overnight," Fletcher said.
Fletcher currently sits on the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority -- a board that promotes growth and development of the downtown sector of Albany.
Politically, Fletcher has tried to shake a perceived connection with the Tea Party which has hampered her campaign since its earliest days.
She continues to deny any political association with the group and has dismissed criticisms of a political speech she gave to the Tea Party Patriots in Lee County saying she's shared her vision for Albany with anyone who will listen.
Fletcher has pledged to work with the General Assembly to improve Albany and to take a more active role than the current administration in pitching the city to prospective businesses.
Of the three candidates running for mayor, Dorothy Hubbard is arguably the one who is most familiar with the way the city currently runs.
Having sat on the commission as Ward II's representative since being appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2005, Hubbard has voted on the city's ordinances, budgets and public policy ever since.
Retired from Albany State University, Hubbard has taken a broad approach in formulating her platform.
Kicking off her campaign in front of a blighted residence that was soon to meet the city's wrecking ball, Hubbard has made blight reduction a key component of her platform.
She's carried her votes to order the demolition of the former Heritage House hotel from the commission to her campaign and strongly voiced her opinion that the city's largest eyesore needs to come down.
An Americus native, Hubbard moved to Albany to attend what was then Albany State College where she got a bachelor's degree in Business Education. She also holds a Master's in Education in Administration and Supervision from the University of Georgia.
In her meeting with the Herald's editorial board, Hubbard said that she's been going around the community holding citizen events she's called "Hubbard's Huddles," to hear the issues and was surprised to hear what the majority have said is the No. 1 issue.
"Going in, I thought crime was the biggest, but I found it was education," Hubbard said. "People are worried about the state of education in this town and many think that if you get education straightened out, the rest will fall into place."
While education is not the responsibility of the city commission or the mayor, she believes that more should be done work with the school board, superintendent and the institutions of higher learning to get students trained for the jobs that are available, while promoting parental involvement, fighting truancy and youth mentoring.
When it comes to crime prevention, Hubbard said she believes one of the best investments the commission has made during her tenure was the $1 million it allocated to form the city's gang unit. She believes the subsequent arrests and dismantling of some of the city's gangs is a good start, but that the commission should continue to support the police department and give them the resources they need to keep the heat on the bad guys.
When it comes to jobs, Hubbard believes in a more regional approach and has said publicly that Albany should band with other Southwest Georgia cities and counties to leverage the assets and incentives of the group to lure in industry.
"We're shooting ourselves in the foot if we don't embrace regionalism," she said.
Hubbard also said economic development and educational institutions should focus on creating jobs in the areas "we're good in," and work with existing businesses to grow jobs.
As for two of the most controversial and divisive issues facing the region -- the consolidation of the city and county governments and the assimilation of Palmyra Medical Centers into Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Hubbard offered up candid thoughts on both issues.
"I have always said and I continue to say that people should have a say in how they are governed," Hubbard said of consolidation. "How they vote is private matter."
Of the three candidates running for mayor, John White has the most political experience, albeit all under the Gold Dome in Atlanta rather than in local government.
The Montgomery, Ala., native began his political career in 1975 and served as a state representative until 1997, when he attempted unsuccessfully to run for state senate.
As a state representative, White introduced legislation to make "Georgia on My Mind," the state song, contends that he was part of the original discussion that eventually led to the formation of Georgia's lottery program and helped design the underpass at Albany State during the rebuilding efforts following the flood of 1994.
White's campaign largely revolves around the contacts that he's made during his time in public service, which is something he believes sets him apart from the other two candidates in the race.
When asked by The Herald's editorial board why he's decided to run for mayor, White said he believes he has the political and personal ties to move the city forward.
"Look at what the choices are...they don't have the connections to get things done like I do," White said. "It's the contacts you have and the relationships you make that make a lot of difference in what gets done and what doesn't and I dare say that these two women don't have those resources."
It's those contacts that he says have helped him work with a consulting firm that believes they can get a second airline flying out of the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport during his first term in office.
Those contacts he says have also allowed him to work with the estate of Ray Charles, the famed-Albany native, in an effort to build the world's first Ray Charles museum here.
He says he's also used those contacts to reach out to relatives of Georgia-native Evander Holyfield to consider putting a gym in Albany that he believes could be used to take troubled kids who are fighting and acting out in school and give them a place where they not only would do their homework, but would be able to fight it out in the ring.
In terms of economic development, White, like Hubbard, believes Albany should play to its strengths to lure industry.
He says the city should work to attract industries that are looking for the kind of students that we have and industries that would benefit from the low cost of living and the weather and that city leaders should work to focus on the needs of the existing businesses.
White, who was on the initial charter committee which was set to create the framework for a consolidated government, said "I don't think consolidation is an issue we need to consider right now."
Seven people, including two incumbents, are running for seats at the Albany City Commission table. Below are profiles of those races, beginning with Ward II.
Two candidates will be competing for votes to fill the Ward II seat that was vacated by Dorothy Hubbard when she qualified to run for mayor.
Ivey Hines and Melissa Strother are both political newcomers, but say they are eager to represent the residents of Ward II.
Hines is a minister and an analyst in information technology at Marine Corps Base Albany, where he has worked for the last 28 years. A native of Bibb County, Hines has spent the last 25 years living in Ward II and said he believes job creation is the top issue facing residents of the district.
If elected, Hines said he work to remove some of the hurdles for people trying to get small businesses off the ground and would reach out to the educational leaders in town to improve Dougherty's educational prowess.
Hines has said that while all jobs are important, he believes creating good-paying careers for area youth will keep young people in Albany where they can contribute financially, socially and politically.
Outside of his ministerial responsibilities at Thunder Temple Missionary Baptist Church, his job at MCLB and his family life, Hines is the past president of the Albany Chapter of Blacks in Government and is active in mentoring young men to help build character and prevent teen pregnancy and drug abuse.
He also serves on the Community Development Council Citizen Advisory Committee for the city of Albany which oversees how federal Community Development Block Grant funds are spent.
Strother is an Albany native and small business owner who has made restoring the public's faith in government one of her campaign's core goals.
A believer in openness, Strother is pushing for more government transparency. To this end, she has pledged to restart the practice of televising commission meetings to reach out to those who may not be able to come to the meetings.
Looking around Ward II, Strother says her district needs infrastructure improvements in order to make it a place where businesses can be supported, a move that connects with her support of revitalizing downtown and promoting a strong sense of commerce throughout the city's six wards.
Strother has also spoken the importance of adequately supporting the Albany Police Department and has pledged to work with Police Chief John Proctor to fill the vacancies on the department and provide whatever resources are necessary to recruit the best police officers to Albany.
Since announcing her candidacy, Strother has become a fixture at city commission meetings and has taken her open-government campaign from Cromartie Beach to Rawson Circle, sponsoring the occasional picnic along the way.
The Ward VI race pits teacher and pupil as incumbent Roger Marietta faces challenger Jason McCoy for his seat at the table.
Marietta, a professor at Darton College, is campaigning on his record of supporting strong public safety initiatives such as the creation of the gang unit, support for SPLOST VI which included technology upgrades for police while also touting other successful initiatives such as the city's 311 system, the improved insurance rating for residents through the efforts of the fire department and creation of Business First initiative which streamlines the permitting process for new businesses.
Marietta touts the revision of a sign ordinance as an accomplishment, although McCoy has also used it to criticize the commission as not being business friendly.
As a commissioner, he's pushed for the creation of active neighborhood watches and says he believes he's proven he's careful with the taxpayer's dollars by casting the motions to get the district attorney involved in the Cutliff Grove matter and pushing for tighter restrictions on ADICA.
An Albany native, McCoy, who studied under Marietta at Darton, is a bookkeeper by trade at the law offices of Vansant & Corriere and has seized the race as an opportunity to meet his would-be constituents and go on what has essentially been a listening tour of Ward IV.
McCoy has called Marietta out on the sign ordinance and his support of SPLOST which he says he believes contain projects that were wasteful and ill-advised.
McCoy has said he believes the city government is a cumbersome and pledges that, if elected, he would work to open up the government to the people, including periodic town hall meetings for Ward IV residents.
Crime, he says, is a major problem in the district and believes that full support of the police department and use of technology, like the use of grant-funded mobile camera systems, could deter crime.
McCoy believes that a Tax Allocation District -- like is currently downtown -- could benefit the residents of Ward IV by earmarking tax dollars earned on improvements to the ward back into the ward to benefit its businesses and residents.
Incumbent Tommie Postell faces two challengers in former Dougherty County Commissioner Victor Edwards and political newcomer Kowana McKinney.
Postell is seeking his third term in office. In the last four years, he's passed SPLOST votes that have helped improve public safety in a ward that is often plagued with crime and poverty.
Postell garnered headlines when he pushed through a "saggy pants" ordinance and is coming off two major developments in Ward VI -- the completion of a multi-million low-income housing development and the extension of the city sewer system and construction of new roads near Hudson Lane.
Always controversial and never apologetic, Postell has developed a reputation of calling the issues as he sees it.
In addition to his roles on the commission, Postell also serves as the defacto chairman of the joint City of Albany Water, Gas, & Light Commission committee that oversees one-third of the money flowing into the city as a part of the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia's Competitive Trust. This Longterm Financial Planning Committee has already partially funded equipment for the gang unit and repairs of a roof and elevators at the WG&L offices downtown.
Edwards is bouncing back into politics after having his political career briefly derailed following a plea on money laundering charges in the 1990's.
Now an entrepreneur, Edwards is jumping back into the political fray, and is using some of his previous accomplishments as a county commissioner to bolster his position as a future city commissioner.
On the county commission, Edwards supported the first ever special local option sales tax, he voted to build the Dougherty County Jail on Evelyn Avenue, the creation of a new mental health department, the construction of a Clark Avenue EMS Station and an improved Dougherty County Health Department.
Now, almost 30 years after he was first elected to office, Edwards says that he intends to focus on removing and reducing blight in Ward VI and will work with economic development officials to take advantage of local business owners to create jobs through existing businesses.
Knowing first-hand the challenges that small business owners face in the city, Edwards has said that he will work to ensure businesses are helped, not hurt, by city policies.
Edwards also has said he will work to change the perception of Ward VI from one where crime and poverty is rampant to one that has the same opportunities to thrive as other wards.
McKinney is treading in waters she admits are unfamiliar to her.
The former Pre-K teacher and community organizer said she saw a need and made the determination that she needed to be the catalyst for change in her community.
A self-proclaimed consensus builder, McKinney says that she knows that any policy, ordinance or budget she considers for the people of Ward VI will need four votes to pass and that she won't be someone who people are afraid to work with.
As commissioner, she says her priorities would be reducing poverty, improving infrastructure, eradicating the sweepstakes companies from the ward, limiting the influx of pawn or title pawn shops and eradication of blight.
She believes the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce's Strive2Thrive program is the best shot the city currently has at ending poverty and that the program should be expanded and supported.
McKinney said she believes that Postell is out-of-touch with many in the ward and that she could bring a newfound sense of energy and enthusiasm to the position.