Ellis, Reichert marshal forces for runoff

Current, former Macon mayors compete for new office

jgaines@macon.comSeptember 18, 2013 

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and former Mayor C. Jack Ellis are in a four-week campaign, each seeking to become the first mayor of the Macon-Bibb County consolidated government.

Reichert came in first by a wide margin in the seven-candidate contest Tuesday. But he fell just short of a majority, throwing him into a runoff with second-place finisher Ellis for the second time in two years. Reichert won the 2011 contest by just 537 votes, but all those came from within city limits.

On Tuesday, the first mayoral election in which all county residents could cast ballots, Reichert took 17,810 votes, while Ellis got 10,838. A few provisional ballots remain to be reported.

“Hard work, man. Grunt work. A ground war.” That’s how Ellis said Wednesday he hopes to close that voting gap and counter Reichert’s big financial advantage.

Ellis’ campaign for the next month will focus intently on turnout efforts, and not just in the city areas where he has run strongly before, he said.

“We’re going to be all over this town. We’re going to be in sub-south, Lizella, wherever we think there is a voter,” Ellis said.

Reichert acknowledged Wednesday that he was disappointed by not winning outright, after it looked for an hour or so that he had. But he said the next four weeks can be a chance to build a stronger coalition from all demographics, in all parts of the county, to face the future as a united community.

“We think that will be a winning message,” Reichert said. “We are just about to break through a barrier that has held us back for far too long.

“The theme of our campaign is working together and building a coalition of citizens that are interested in moving this community into the future. We are thrilled with the level of support that we got, and quite humbled and honored with the level of support that we got from all across the county.”

Reichert said that bodes well for his runoff prospects, and he hopes to draw in new voters who didn’t participate in Tuesday’s election.

Campaigns seek endorsements, cash

All registered Bibb County voters will have a chance to vote Oct. 15, regardless of who they previously supported or whether they voted Tuesday at all. Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen, former Commission Chairman Charlie Bishop, businessman David Cousino, activist Anthony Harris and current Commission Chairman Sam Hart are out of the race, and both Ellis and Reichert are trying to attract some of the other candidates’ supporters -- or endorsements from the former candidates themselves.

“I have swapped calls with Sam Hart, but hope to have his support and endorsement. I have talked to Joe Allen, and I have his support and endorsement,” Reichert said. Hart was the third-place finisher with 4,101 votes. Late Tuesday night, Hart said he was glad that if he couldn’t be the winner, that Reichert was in the running for the mayor’s job. Allen came in fifth with 613 votes.

Reichert said he will also call other candidates in the race. Bishop, in fourth place with 2,452 votes, said Tuesday night he wouldn’t endorse anyone. Cousino and Harris together pulled fewer than 150 votes.

Ellis said he has made some phone calls to other candidates, but he hadn’t spoken to any of them as of early Wednesday afternoon.

But his efforts don’t include seeking support from Hart. Ellis said there is no point in it, since Hart has always been on friendly terms with Reichert and agrees with Reichert on practically every policy issue.

Both candidates are seeking money as well as votes for the final stretch. Reichert had a wide lead in fundraising throughout the race. In early September, Reichert reported having raised $261,442, and still had $45,765.18 on hand with two weeks to go.

“We used a lot of that between the second and the 16th for advertising,” he said.

More has come in since that report, however. Reichert wasn’t sure offhand of the exact total in new contributions but said it was about $10,000. And he hopes to raise even more in the coming month.

Ellis raised the second-largest amount of money among the six qualified mayoral candidates, but that was still less than a quarter of Reichert’s haul: $55,900. Also with two weeks to go before Tuesday’s election, Ellis said he had $11,024.53 remaining. But that’s now gone, he said Wednesday.

“Everything that we had, we spent,” Ellis said. He too is seeking to raise more money for the monthlong final stretch and said he thinks the two-candidate runoff will make it easier for him to find contributors.

Outside analysis

Reichert should easily attract Hart’s voters, while it’s almost impossible to imagine Ellis getting support from those who backed Allen or Bishop, said Chris Grant, associate professor of political science at Mercer University.

“The likelihood that Ellis can pick up voters that he didn’t get the first round is quite low,” he said. “I think all expectations, all theory, are that Reichert will win a runoff.”

Research by Charles Bullock, head of the political science department at the University of Georgia, found a few years ago that about 80 percent of the time whoever finished first in an election also won the runoff, Grant said.

The key to victory for either candidate will be voter turnout, but the electorate’s racial breakdown likely will still play a role, he said. According a June tally of active voters, 50.5 percent of the countywide electorate is black, and 46.8 percent is white.

“We know that Jack Ellis has almost no pull among white voters, and Reichert does have a cross-racial pull,” Grant said.

The 2011 mayoral election results indicate that up to a quarter of all black voters in the city -- which contains more than half of the total county population -- supported Reichert, Grant said. In contrast, he finds it hard to believe Ellis will attract more than 5 percent of white voters, especially outside the city limits.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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