You’ve got to work hard If you want anything at all.
— Depeche Mode
His comment was made in frustration and anger, Ward III Albany City Commissioner Christopher Pike admitted on the day after he lost his commission seat to businesswoman B.J. Fletcher in Tuesday’s municipal election.
“The candidate with the most money won the election,” Pike told a TV reporter.
And while Fletcher certainly garnered more financial support in the community than the incumbent Pike and the race’s other challenger, Cheryl Calhoun, the businesswoman’s victory was less about money, more about good, old-fashioned work ethic.
Fletcher simply outworked her opponents.
A segment of the voting population in Albany will always make any political campaign here about race. But as Lane Price’s overwhelming victory over an ineffective Anita Williams-Brown in the 2011 Dougherty County School Board race and now Fletcher’s win in the City Commission campaign have shown, a growing number of voters in the region are now casting their ballots for the person who they think will best serve them.
Regardless of race, gender or other factors.
A look at the celebrants gathered at Fletcher’s B.J.’s Country Cooking restaurant on election night offered compelling evidence of that fact. It was perhaps as perfect a blend of black, white, brown, old, young and pretty much any other demographic as could be gathered. Fletcher said after the election it was a “coalition from throughout Ward III” that carried her to the easy win.
Certainly Fletcher’s strategy worked, as she received 64.5 percent of the vote to win the election without a runoff. But it’s easy enough to pinpoint two key campaign strategies that were crucial to her win.
The first was her decision not to attack Pike for financial issues that have dogged him over the last several years. Pike told me in a pre-election interview that he expected his opponents to try to taint his campaign by bringing up the issue, but Fletcher conspicuously avoided discussing it.
“One of my supporters in the African-American community told me before the campaign got started that I should not try and beat (Pike) up over personal issues,” Fletcher said. “He told me, ‘The people know what’s going on.’ I think that was good advice.”
Indeed, a campaign that took personal aim at Pike might very well have been the one thing that would have motivated his base supporters — who stayed away from the polls in droves Tuesday — to get out and vote.
Fletcher’s second major strategic move that paid off in a big way was her decision to spend as much time as possible campaigning in the northwest section of the ward. Her overwhelming victories in the Covenant Presbyterian Church Precinct (380 votes to 39 for Pike and 19 for Calhoun) and Sherwood Elementary School Precinct (96-10-6) were enough to assure victory.
At a meeting of a neighborhood watch group located in that area, Fletcher told those gathered, “We can win this race if you go to the polls and vote … and take two people with you.”
She told me later she was overwhelmed by the response at the Covenant and Sherwood precincts, where 24 percent of the former’s registered voters came to the polls, as did 32 percent of the latter’s. By contrast, only 5 percent voted in the Phoebe Education Building Precinct, and only slightly less than 14 percent of the overall registered voters in the two contested wards combined cast ballots.
“I got tears in my eyes on election day when a wonderful 92-year-old lady told me she’d had foot surgery recently and was not supposed to be standing, but she went to the polls to vote for me anyway,” Fletcher said.
It’s human nature and certainly an easy enough thing to point fingers at others rather than look inwardly when bad things happen to us. But the cold, hard fact of the Ward III election Tuesday is not that Chris Pike or Cheryl Calhoun lost the election. It’s that B.J. Fletcher won it.
As long-time Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard, who knows a thing or 20 about local elections, told me on the day after Tuesday’s vote: “I was coming home on a Sunday a couple of weeks ago, and I happened to ride into one of the bad neighborhoods in the city. I saw B.J. and several of her supporters out campaigning.
“That’s why she won that election.”
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.