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Ward II: Challenger Coleman takes his message directly to voters

Albany Election Preview

Ward II Albany City Commission candidate Bobby Coleman

Ward II Albany City Commission candidate Bobby Coleman

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Medical transportation specialist Bobby Coleman is walking all the streets of Ward II as he campaigns to unseat Ivey Hines as the district’s representative on the Albany City Commission. (Staff photo: Laura Williams)

ALBANY — As he’s walked the streets of Ward II — and Bobby Coleman is quick to point out that he’s walking all of the ward’s streets — the first-time Albany City Commission candidate says he keeps hearing a common, recurring theme: lack of leadership.

“The citizens of Albany are tired of what’s happening with their city government,” Coleman, a medical transportation technician, said. “Members of the City Commission don’t seem to want to put the city first. I get this feeling of ‘We can’t keep putting the same people in a position to do the same things and expect to see changes’ from voters.

“I’ve got some new ideas, and I’m listening to the people in Ward II. I’m at a point where I’m ready and willing to be the change that I seek.”

While Coleman is a first-time candidate, he says he’s not new to politics or local government.

“I’ve been a soldier out there on the (political) battle lines,” the Ward II candidate said. “I worked with people like (campaign consultant) Henry Mathis during his campaigns, and I’ve been around and followed local government passionately for the last 35 years. I’ve seen plenty of people come and go who mean well, but there aren’t enough candidates willing to put the needs of the people first.

“I’m going to be that person. I have the capacity and the ability to network and bring new ideas to the table.”

Coleman said he’s taken his message directly to the people of Ward II. That, he notes, has allowed him to get a fix on the specific needs of the citizens.

“You’ll hear politicians talk about the needs of a particular ward or subdivision in a community, and their list is very limited,” he said. “By going door-to-door — looking the people of this district in the eyes — I’ve seen that there are particular issues that are more important to various sections within the ward.

“The needs of the citizens of Rawson Circle are not the same as the needs of the citizens of Jackson Heights. The needs of Stuart Avenue … Palmyra Road … ‘Box Bottom’ are all unique. The person who serves as commissioner of a particular ward has got to get out and meet the people to understand that concept. One area may need trees cut down, one may have an issue with garbage collection, one may have road repair issues. You don’t know unless you knock on those doors.”

Coleman said he’s gotten anecdotal evidence of neglect while campaigning for the seat currently held by Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany Information Technology Specialist Ivey Hines.

“I talked with one elderly lady in the ward who said she hasn’t seen her commissioner since 2005,” Coleman said. “I’ve talked with a number of people who told me they’ve never had a candidate come by their home. Some of them were so pleased to see someone was actually interested in knowing how they felt about the city’s issues.”

In addition to the incumbent, Coleman must also outpoll a fellow newcomer to claim the Ward II seat. Albany State University Marketing Director Demetrious Love is also seeking the City Commission post.

“There are those who are trying to convince the people that longevity doesn’t matter,” Coleman said in an indirect reference to Love. “I don’t agree. I’ve been here all my life. I was raised here; I walked these streets. I’ve seen and been a part of the changes that have taken place in our city. The people who just got here yesterday, they don’t see.”

Coleman said he’s started to develop a plan for his expected tenure in office by talking to citizens throughout Ward II. That plan, he notes, includes having citizens directly involved in the governing process.

“We need to change the city’s information-sharing policy,” he said. “What they do when they send out information now to people who request it is send it out after the fact. They’ll send out information saying, ‘This is how the commission voted.’ The people who are interested in their government deserve to have this information before the votes are taken.

“We’re lacking new ideas on this commission, and without innovative ideas government grinds to a standstill. I plan to have an advisory committee made up of representatives of several sections of Ward II. I’ll meet with them and talk with them about the issues the commission is facing. They’ll be able to talk with other citizens in their area about the things that matter to them, and I’ll have that input before I ever cast a vote.”

Coleman said he’s well aware of the issues facing the city, chief among them development of a workable economic development plan, improvements to the city’s aging infrastructure and a more clearly defined plan for usage of special-purpose local-option sales tax funds.

“If people know what they’re getting for their tax money, they’re more apt to vote for a new SPLOST,” he said. “But the direction we’re heading in right now puts (voter passage of a new round of the 1 percent tax) in jeopardy.”

Coleman stresses the importance of working together with other commissioners to find the best possible solution to problems the city faces.

“That’s where everyone’s focus needs to be, finding what’s best for the citizens of this community,” he said. “I think I have the ability to build a consensus at the commission table, to get the four votes necessary to bring about the policies that are needed to move us forward. I think by maintaining the rapport I’ve built with the citizens I’ve talked with in Ward II and by sharing ideas and listening to the other members of the commission, I can have the kind of positive impact on this board that the city of Albany needs.

“I’m not going to get out here and talk negative about others on the commission or my opponents in this race. That doesn’t serve the people of this community. I’ve said all along — and I reiterate — I’m not running against anyone. I’m running for the seat that will allow me to represent the people of Ward II. I’ve learned a lot by listening to the people of this ward, and that’s what I plan to keep doing. I’m going to keep talking to the people and listening to what they have to say.”