Several names being whispered for next Warner Robins mayor

chwright@macon.comDecember 26, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Chalk. Shaheen. Toms. Cowart. Wilbanks. Smith. Daley. Holmes.

The Warner Robins mayoral election may be almost a year away, but names of potential candidates already are being discussed in the city’s inner circles.

Unlike the 2009 mayoral race that saw two relatively low-key candidates pop up, the 2013 race may not be so green. Former councilmen, a former city fireman and a name made popular in the last mayoral election are among the whispers.

Only one contacted last week was ready to confirm he’s running, while the others talked around the question of a potential November 2013 bid. Still, none ruled it out.

Qualifying for the race, and three council seats, begins in August.

The 2009 mayoral election was possibly the most memorable in city history. Political fledglings Chuck Shaheen and Chuck Chalk joined Councilman Clifford Holmes in challenging four-term incumbent Donald Walker.

But Walker committed suicide five weeks before the election, focusing the race on who would be the most capable for the job.

All three candidates could face off again in 2013.

Chalk, who narrowly lost to Shaheen, said his intent all along has been to run again.

“But at this point I’m still measuring and deciding,” Chalk said. “We still need effective leadership.”

Chalk, a 46-year-old Robins Air Force Base civil servant, lost the 2009 race by 190 votes. Shaheen earned 2,927 votes, and Chalk netted 2,737 in a run-off race that drew more voters than the initial general election.

Chalk, raised in south Georgia and Tampa, Fla., settled in Warner Robins after retiring from the Air Force.

“As far as a campaign, people need options, and I think I can contribute,” Chalk said. “We need to make sure we get the best qualified pool in there.”

Shaheen, through spokeswoman Ruby Hamb-Holmes, did not directly respond to a question about whether he would seek re-election.

“I work on a day-to-day contract and try to do the best I can each day,” Shaheen stated in an e-mailed response from Hamb-Holmes. “I do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. (Matthew 6:34).”

Holmes, who finished third in the 2009 race, did not return phone calls for comment.

Holmes served one term as a councilman, stepping in as interim mayor for two months while Walker was on sick leave. The retired educator gave up his council seat, now held by Daron Lee, to run for mayor.

Former Councilmen Bob Wilbanks, Dean Cowart and Steve Smith also have been named as potential candidates by Warner Robins insiders. Smith could not be reached for comment.

Wilbanks, 53, said he hasn’t made a firm decision on running for mayor but had plenty to say about why a new one is needed.

“Chuck’s probably doing the best he can,” Wilbanks said. “But you really have to do the best for the city in those positions. When someone ain’t doing it right, you ought to tell about it.”

Wilbanks is a retired airman of 22 years who served on several boards before seeking office. He now works as the security chief at Middle Georgia Technical College.

The one-term councilman often publicly knocked heads with Shaheen during the mayor’s first two years, mainly calling for transparency and follow-through.

He did not seek re-election November 2011.

Asked if he stepped down to run for mayor, Wilbanks responded, “The only way to make meaningful changes, at that time, was to be the mayor.”

“It wasn’t about Bob Wilbanks; it’s about the city,” he said. “I’m not too big to step out of” council since the two couldn’t agree.

He said the city needs to re-evaluate its payroll study, review land annexed into Byron that’s connected to city utilities and adequately fund public safety.

“Whomever sits in the mayor’s seat next year is going to have to make some hard decisions,” Wilbanks said.

Cowart, 52, also soft-pedaled on the question of whether he will run for mayor.

“I’m still a prospective; I’m debating whether I will,” he said, adding he’ll make an announcement in the new year.

Cowart, who has served on several local boards, served two council terms in different posts between 1996 and 2004. He lost a bid for a third term.

“I have just been sitting back working with the public, deciding what the city needs,” Cowart said.

He said he’s ready to retire from the Defense Contract Management Agency. He also recently stepped down from the city’s building authority after 14 years.

Asked if the move was in preparation for a mayoral bid, he said: “It’s time to step down, not necessarily to run for mayor.”

The freshest name in the race could be Randy Toms, a former city fireman who retired in July.

“My whole life has been serving this community and this community serving me,” said Toms, confirming he intends to enter the race. “I’m not ready at this age to give up serving this community.”

Toms, 52, served one tour in the U.S. Air Force before returning to his hometown of Warner Robins. He is the chaplain for the city fire department and the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs.

He said the city needs better public safety funding, recreation facilities and infrastructure. Being fair to the city employees is paramount, he said.

“I know we can’t create money and give them everything they want,” he said. “If our city employees are not being taken care of the very best we can, then the citizens aren’t getting the services they deserve.”

He declined to comment in detail about what he would do differently as mayor until after he officially announces his candidacy.

“I intend to run a clean race,” he said.

Also on the ballot next year will be three council seats. Mike Daley, Post 1 at-large; Paul Shealy, Post 3; and Daron Lee, Post 5, are up for re-election.

Lee is the only one who has confirmed he will seek his seat.

“There are some things that are still undone that I need to see followed through as a councilman,” Lee said.

Daley, who has been said to be considering a bid for mayor, did not return phone calls for comment.

Shealy said he also wants to see some projects through, but wavers on whether he should do so as a councilman for another four years.

“It depends on what day you ask me,” Shealy said. “Sometimes I get frustrated trying to get things done.”

Shealy said he would run for mayor only if residents wanted him to.

He insisted, in any case, that anyone who runs for mayor should have cut their teeth as a councilman first to learn the inner workings of the city.

“I thought I (knew), but there were a few things along the years that have popped up that I didn’t know,” Shealy said.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.

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