Incumbent Ward II Albany City Commissioner Ivey Hines is seeking his first full term in office in the Nov. 5 municipal election. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — When six candidates, including incumbents who have six years experience between them, announced plans to run for two contested seats on the Albany City Commission in Tuesday’s municipal election, voters in Wards II and III settled in for an expected deluge of election signs and candidate visits.
But with the election only five days away, many voters say they’ve been surprised — and confused — by the relative inactivity of the candidates.
One such voter, 28-year-old Patrick Brookerd, who lives in Ward III, offered an assessment that has been echoed throughout the city as the countdown to the election enters its final days.
“When I look to vote in a local election, I’m looking for candidates who are active,” Brookerd said. “I’m looking for someone who’s willing to come into my neighborhood and talk with me about the issues. I spend a lot of time in my neighborhood, and I just haven’t seen candidates out talking to the voters.
“The only candidates I’ve seen doing any real politicking during this campaign are (Ward II challenger) Bobby Coleman and (Ward III’s) B.J. Fletcher. I don’t know what the other folks are waiting for, but I think the fact that there are some candidates willing to knock on doors says a lot about them.”
Listening to the six candidates — incumbent Christopher Pike, Cheryl Calhoun and Fletcher in Ward III; incumbent Ivey Hines, Demetrius Love and Coleman in Ward II — at various forums and neighborhood meetings, each claims to have worn out significant amounts of shoe leather while canvassing the expansive wards. But if the number of votes cast during the three-week early voting period, which ends Friday, is an indication of the interest they’ve generated, their messages don’t appear to be reaching larger audiences.
Elections officials said Wednesday morning only 134 voters had cast ballots in the Elections office. Of the 90 absentee ballots mailed out to voters, only 38 had been returned as of Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, when you look at this same race from 2009, this (low early voting turnout) is par for the course,” Elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson said. “I was thinking that with six candidates, maybe they’d be able to generate more interest. Unfortunately, it hasn’t really picked up.”
Even candidate forums hosted during the final stages of the campaign — one by Ward I City Commissioner Jon Howard at the downtown Law Enforcement Center Oct. 26 and another hosted by Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta’s Democrat, Independent Republican Team Club at Darton State College Tuesday — failed to draw significant numbers of interested voters. Both attracted around 50 attendees, although the Darton forum was taped for rebroadcast Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the Public Access Channel 19 shared by Darton and Albany State University.
Tuesday’s election is the first under redrawn city ward lines based on 2010 census numbers. That has led to some confusion, particularly in Ward III, where many voters who had long been in Ward V were moved to equalize the voter totals, as required by state and federal specifications.
“There has been some confusion,” Nickerson said, “but we’ve done everything required by law and beyond to educate the voters. The law says we must advertise in the legal organ; we’ve done that. We also are required to inform the public about such election issues as early voting dates, and we’ve done that. It’s been in the newspaper, and I’ve talked with the local television stations. There have been public meetings . … We’ve gone above and beyond what we’re required to do.
“The first thing we did was mail out precinct ID cards, and that was on March 7. Each voters’ precinct is listed on those cards. We also have a ‘My Voter Page’ on the city’s website that gives specific information about individual voters, and you can get similar information on the Secretary of State’s website. Plus, the one thing we’ve emphasized at everything we’ve been a part of is, ‘If you’re not sure, call our office (229-431-3247).’ We’re here to help.”
The 5,550 registered voters in Ward II will cast their ballots in five precincts:
— Precinct 1: Palmyra Methodist Church, 1600 Palmyra Road
— Precinct 2: Sherwood Elementary School, 2200 Barnesdale Way
— Precinct 15: Phoebe Education Building, 1000 N. Jefferson St.
— Precinct 17: Jackson Heights Elementary School, 1305 E. Second Ave.
— Precinct 24: Albany Middle School, 1700 Cordell Ave.
Ward III’s 6,251 voters will cast ballots in seven precincts:
— Precinct 2: Sherwood Elementary
— Precinct 3: Covenant Presbyterian Church, 2126 W. Edgewater Drive
— Precinct 6: Merry Acres Middle School, 1601 Florence Drive
— Precinct 12: Carver Teen Center, 1028 S. McKinley St.
— Precinct 13: Shiloh Baptist Church, 325 Whitney Ave.
— Precinct 14: Litman Cathedral, 1129 W. Whitney Ave.
— Precinct 15: Phoebe Education Building
Nickerson notes that District 2 includes voters from Wards II, III and V (whose seat, held by Bob Langstaff, was one of three up for re-election, but no election was necessary when no one qualified to run against Langstaff), while District 15 is split between Ward II and Ward III voters.
As the candidates headed down the home stretch of the campaign, they worked to build their base while making a case for their candidacy at various forums, meetings and private fundraisers. Among the notable comments made by each:
PIKE: “The last four years I’ve been in office, I’ve been a servant of the people of Ward III. Much has been made in the media about my personal life, but I’d say 90 percent of the people of Albany and 95 percent of the people in Ward III are just like me. They’ve had their own struggles, just like I have. If I’m the least perfect candidate, I’m one of the most connected. That makes me the best candidate.”
CALHOUN: “One thing that my mama taught me about life is that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I care about this city, that’s why I stayed here. And I’m willing to stand up for our children and for our city. Everyone talks about getting their ‘fair share,’ but we need to focus our resources on where our problems lie. This isn’t ‘Split-bany,’ it’s ‘All-bany.’”
FLETCHER: “Everyone in this room is a small business owner, and your partners are the taxpayers of Albany. You all own a piece of this city. As small business owners, you have two ‘CEOs’ in Ward II and Ward III to evaluate. You have to determine if they’ve done an adequate job. If you’re not satisfied with what they’ve done, you’ve got two more applicants in each ward to consider. I ask you to look closely at the applicants.”
HINES: “Others in this race talk about what they’re going to do. I’m talking about what I’m doing. Public safety is an important issue throughout the community, and some have been critical of our police protection. But the police can’t do the job alone. That’s why I helped establish a council of neighborhood watches, so that citizens can be the eyes and ears for police. There’s power in unity.”
COLEMAN: “What we need in this community is leadership, and a good leader must be willing to listen. I’ve been listening to the people throughout this ward. I know the ward, I know the needs of the ward and I know the issues that are important to the people of the ward. We need to quit spending so much money on consultants and get the local people with the ability to do the work and then let them do it.”
LOVE: “This election isn’t about me or any other candidate, it’s about you the people. But one thing is clear: Albany is at a fork in the road, and we need people at the table who can sit with their colleagues and articulate which fork we need to take. We as a community need to determine what we want to be, then we need to tear down the walls that are dividing us and keeping us from reaching our goals.”
Polls at the 10 precincts active for Tuesday’s election will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If no candidate in either race receives the “50 percent plus one vote” needed to claim outright victory, a runoff election will be held on Dec. 3.