Nov. 5 municipal elections already drawing interest

ALBANY, Ga. -- If early interest in the three Albany City Commission seats up for grabs in this year's Nov. 5 municipal elections is any indication, local political followers could be in for a treat during the 2013 election cycle.

No fewer than three challengers have already announced plans to jump into the political fire in a quest to gain the commission's Ward II, Ward III and Ward V seats, and other hopefuls are completing due diligence in advance of plans to announce their own campaigns.

"There hasn't been a lot of activity in our office at this point, but I'm sure that will change soon," Dougherty County Elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson said earlier this week. "Once it gets closer to qualifying (Aug. 26-30), we should start seeing things happen."

Sitting Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike already has two announced challengers: restaurateur B.J. Fletcher and Dougherty County School System bus driver Cheryl Calhoun. Fletcher lost in a runoff to current Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard in the city's 2011 mayoral race, and Calhoun was disqualified from running for the Ward II commission seat that year after city officials misread GIS documentation that put her residence in the wrong ward.

Pike, who is completing his first term in office, was first elected to serve on the commission in 2010.

Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines, elected in 2011 to fill the seat vacated by Hubbard during her victorious quest to become the city's first female mayor, has drawn the challenge of medical transport specialist Bobby Coleman, a first-time candidate. Melissa Strother, who lost to Hines by 44 votes in the 2011 race after Calhoun was disqualified, has shown no immediate interest in qualifying yet, but businessman Demetrius Love is rumored to be contemplating a run in the ward.

Neither Pike nor Hines has officially announced plans to seek re-election.

In Ward V, three-term Commissioner Bob Langstaff has not drawn announced opposition, but Lane Rosen, a Realtor who also owns and manages the downtown State Theatre, is rumored to be seriously considering a run in the ward. Langstaff, who represents the City Commission on the Albany-Dougherty Aviation Commission, said Thursday evening during an event at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport that he'd make a decision on a re-election race by the end of the month.

Nickerson, who has worked with the elections office for 13 years, the last four as supervisor, said the recent invalidation of Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court should not have much of an impact on her office as it prepares for qualifying and for the election.

"The Department of Justice has generally asked us for a list of African-Americans living in a ward or district as a point of reference, and they've asked for contact information on members of the Elections Board," she said. "We'll still have to have changes approved by DOJ, but there will not be the scrutiny that there was before."

The Nov. 5 municipal elections will be the first in Albany and Dougherty County under redistricting approved after the 2010 census. Officials in the city/county Planning office said there are no wholesale changes in district and ward maps.

"Yes, there are some differences in the lines," city/county GIS Manager Randy Weathersby said. "Voters should check the maps carefully to make sure what district or ward they're in.

"But I don't think anyone's going to see any significant changes."

Qualifying for the three municipal races will be conducted from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 26-29 and from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 30. Candidates will qualify at the elections office on the second floor of the downtown Government Center. Candidates qualifying in person for any of the races are required only to come by the Elections office and pay fees, while persons qualifying via mail must include a current valid photo ID, a utility bill, a bank statement, copy of a government check or paycheck or other government documents.

Candidates who qualify to run for one of the commission seats will receive a packet from the Elections office that contains information about signage and ethics and campaign contribution forms required by the state.

"The races don't concern our office; it's the turnout that we get excited about," Nickerson said. "But we don't run get-out-the-vote campaigns. I always say it's our job to facilitate the elections process, it's the job of the candidates to get out the voters."

Unregistered voters have until 5 p.m. on Oct. 7 to register in time to vote in the municipal elections.