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Two city incumbents face challenges

ALBANY — One incumbent Albany City Commissioner will definitely return to his seat. Two others will have to fight for theirs.

Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff, an Albany attorney with 12 years on the commission, earned a fourth term when no other candidate emerged to challenge him. Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines and Ward III’s Christopher Pike did not go unchallenged, and each must campaign against a pair of candidates to earn a second go-around with the commission.

Qualifying for the three seats, which will be contested in Albany’s Nov. 5 municipal election, was held Monday-Friday last week.

“Frankly, I’m surprised — and a little disappointed — that no one else among the 13,000 folks in Ward V chose to run for the commission,” Langstaff said. “I believe competition is healthy, and at the minimum it leads to new dialog during the election cycle.”

Businessman Lane Rosen, who has real estate holdings in Albany and is owner/manager of the downtown State Theatre, had planned to challenge Langstaff for his seat. But questions concerning his residency led Rosen to reconsider. He says, though, that he will enter the political fray at the next opportunity.

“I think our election laws are wrong,” Rosen said. “And I was prepared to challenge them. But I would have had to do so while campaigning for office, and in the end I thought that would be too much.

“I did talk with Bob during the last few weeks, and I found him to be a man of his word. We’ve known each other a long time, and I have even more respect for him now.”

Langstaff lauded efforts by the City Commission to improve public safety in the community, and he said an improved and nationally-accredited police force will help with other concerns as well.

“All of it — from economic development to jobs to our budget issues to an improved quality of life — starts with effective law enforcement, fire safety and EMS,” the Ward V incumbent said. “I’m proud of the work the commission has done in making public safety our No. 1 priority.”

Hines, who won a special election to complete the unexpired term of Mayor Dorothy Hubbard in Ward II, said the commission must develop an effective strategic plan if it is to tackle the tough issues it faces. One of Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany’s “Civilian Marines,” Hines said he has formulated a plan to help address those issues.

“Economic development is, I think, one of the primary issues the commission will tackle in the next four years as we work to expand our tax base,” the Ward II commissioner said. “Things like a tighter budget, public safety, how our citizens’ tax money is spent … all the issues we contend with every day can be addressed in an effective strategic plan.”

Hines asked at the commission’s most recent work session that discussion of a strategic plan be put on the commission’s next work session agenda.

“We need to look at where we want this city to be in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years,” he said. “We need a professional — someone who understands this process — to look at our issues with us and help us come up with a plan to best address them.”

Medical transport specialist Bobby Coleman said Hines has lost touch with the citizens of Ward II, pointing to what he called failing infrastructure and high incidences of crime in the district as primary concerns.

“I’m not happy with the direction our city is moving in,” Coleman said. “We need someone who knows and understands the issues of this community, and I’m that person. When juvenile delinquents have so many of our citizens afraid to leave their homes, we have a serious problem.

“The way we make this community better is to offer better jobs to our citizens, but businesses are not going to come here if our infrastructure is crumbling. There is a dire need for infrastructure improvements in Ward II, just as there is a need to improve our infrastructure citywide. Unfortunately, that’s something our current representative is not working on.”

Like Coleman, Albany State University Director of Marketing Demetrius Love is in his first political campaign. Love said he’s taken a data-driven approach to determining the most critical needs of the citizens in Ward II.

“I’ve put it out there on social media, asking specifically what issues matter most to the people of our district,” Love said. “I had to put my own biases and preconceived ideas out of the way and let the people tell me directly what they’re concerned about. And looking at the data, I’d say employment is perhaps the No. 1 concern right now.

“I will set my agenda to address those needs, and I will establish for myself certain challenges and goals. And at the end of a year, I will ask my constituents to give me a grade on whether I’ve met those goals. That’s probably where some of our biggest issues come from. There is a disconnect between my opponent (Hines) and the people he’s supposed to be representing.”

Pike, a businessman who is completing his first four-year term as representative of Ward III, said he’ll use the knowledge he’s obtained during his first term in office to address the concerns that face the commission.

“As an incumbent, I don’t have to talk about what I’m going to do,” Pike said. “I can talk about what I’m doing and what I’ve done. I think that’s a decided advantage.”

The Ward III incumbent said a lot of what he’s done in office involves his focus on economic development.

“We’ve put a very effective tool in place, with our Deal-Closing Fund, that should help us aggressively go after new business,” Pike said. “I’m fortunate to have been a part of developing that fund and look forward to it having a big impact on our economic future. All the vital issues in our community revolve around economic development. That’s why it’s so crucial.”

Pike said he’s taken a pro-business approach during his tenure on the commission.

“Sometimes it’s the little things,” he said. “I’ve pushed to change elements of our sign ordinance. People have to have a sign to open their business, and it was taking sometimes three months to get through all the red tape they were facing. That’s just ridiculous.

“I think I’ve shown that I can obtain a consensus on the issues that matter in our community, and that’s what leadership is all about. The question citizens must ask is who can get the four votes needed to get things accomplished?”

Cheryl Calhoun, a school bus driver for the Dougherty County School System, said two concerns are vital to her campaign to unseat Pike in Ward III: crime and youth programs. Calhoun, who was ruled ineligible to run for the Ward II seat in 2011 after qualifying for the race, said she wants to be a community builder.

“I’ve been looking at the crime stats, and crime is highest in Ward III,” Calhoun said. “When I look at those stats and look at the faces of those children that I take to and from school every day, I know that we must do more. That’s what I plan to do as commissioner.”

Calhoun said too many elected officials by their actions take simple matters and make them difficult.

“I don’t see any need to re-invent the wheel,” she said. “There are good people in this community, and there are groups who are working hard to make it better. We need to work with those groups, and we need to make sure our law enforcement personnel have everything they need to do their jobs.

“I’m concerned about the level of crime in Ward III, but it’s not just in one specific part of the city. Crime impacts all of Albany, and we’ve got to do all we can to stop it.”

B.J. Fletcher, a businesswoman who is one of the proponents of a revitalized downtown, said she’s ready to work on all the city’s issues: from community development to potholes.

“I want to be clear about one thing: There are some very good commissioners and some very strong leaders in our city,” Fletcher said. “I want to work with them, to be part of the solution. Ward III is the heart of our community, and it’s rotting from the inside. There are places in the district where, when it’s raining, you’re up to your knees in water. And I attended a church in the district that was so dark, I rode by it a couple of times before finding it.

“A lot of people have tried to make the issues our community faces black and white issues. I say they’re green issues; they’re about having the money to bring jobs here. There has been very little growth in Ward III over the past 10 years, and I say it is vital that we strengthen the center of our community.”

Fletcher forced Hubbard into a runoff before losing the mayor’s race in 2011, and she said she’s learned from that experience.

“Some people tried to bring personal issues into that campaign, and it was hard to keep away from it,” she said. “But this time I’m not going to waste energy worrying about what other people are saying. I’m going to work to win this election so I can work with our city leaders to make our community stronger.”

Elections Superviser Ginger Nickersson said Friday afternoon that the qualifying process for the 2013 election cycle had gone “even better than we had expected.”

Nickerson noted that, since Langstaff drew no opposition in Ward V, Georgia law dictates that polls will not be open in that district’s precincts during Nov. 5 voting.