No letdown as familiar foes Reichert, Ellis dash toward Tuesday runoff

pramati@macon.comOctober 12, 2013 


    C. Jack Ellis: Partner with law enforcement on education and recreation
    Robert Reichert: Set a three-part approach to reducing crime: prevention, intervention and rehabilitation

    C. Jack Ellis: Says the law doesn’t really require a cut if it’s “too painful”
    Robert Reichert: Follow letter/spirit of law, make cuts through attrition, make government more efficient

    C. Jack Ellis: Extend city services to entire county, but give priority to areas deprived by poverty and racism
    Robert Reichert: Do a study during the first year to examine public departments vs. private contracts

    C. Jack Ellis: Partner with other agencies to attract big employers; give incentives for small business to move into neighborhoods
    Robert Reichert: Make Macon a central hub to strong regional development; continue with Second Street project

    C. Jack Ellis: Abandon some areas with few residents, moving holdouts to comparable houses elsewhere, and aid poor with home repairs
    Robert Reichert: Continue with 5x5 plan for neighborhoods; work with public-private partnerships for redevelopment

If there’s one thing that Robert Reichert and C. Jack Ellis agree on, it’s this: The score is 0-0.

Both candidates to become the first mayor of the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government say the fact that Reichert drew about 7,000 more votes Ellis in last month’s special election is no longer relevant. It’s the candidate who gets more supporters to the polls Tuesday that will win the race.

Though he missed claiming the Sept. 17 election outright by just 160 votes, Reichert -- who finished ahead of Ellis 17,821-10,852 -- said it’s essential that his supporters return to the polls for the runoff.

“You tell them we’ve reset the scoreboard,” said Reichert, who has served as Macon’s mayor since he was elected in 2007. “It’s whoever gets the most votes. ... Our two worst enemies are overconfidence and apathy. The combination is a killer. ... It doesn’t matter how well we did before.”

Ellis -- Macon’s first black mayor, who served from 1999 to 2007 -- has taken the role of the underdog throughout the mayoral race, noting that he doesn’t have the funds or resources to match Reichert. Instead, he’s taken a grass-roots approach that he likened to Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign.

“We’re doing everything in our power over the next (few) days to getting the vote out,” he said. “We don’t have the big bucks for 30-second TV commercials. We’re taking our message of hope and growth opportunities for all across the city. It’s hard work, taking it to the streets, but we know the votes are out there. It’s like President Obama’s campaign -- a people’s campaign.”

Through September’s election, Reichert’s campaign had raised and spent roughly five times what the Ellis campaign had to help get the word out. In his latest campaign disclosure released Friday, Reichert has raised a total of $425,947 and spent $393,471. Ellis’ latest campaign disclosure wasn’t available by the close of business Friday.

Reichert has spent much of the past month putting out TV and radio commercials, sending out mailers and making “robocalls” to get his message out.

Ellis said he waited until the final weekend before the runoff to air his first TV commercial.

Both candidates have made extensive use of social media, frequently updating their Face­book and Twitter feeds to urge supporters to show up for early voting and to list various endorsements.

Of the candidates who ran against Reichert and Ellis, only Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen has made a public endorsement, throwing his support behind Reichert. Ellis and Reichert said they are making a push to urge those voters to come over to their campaigns.

“We’re going after every vote,” Ellis said. “We’re not conceding any votes.”

“We’re trying to reach out to voters through those candidates,” Reichert said. “We’re going to target and reach out to people and give them information about why they should vote for me.”

Tension building

It’s not the first time both men have faced off in a runoff.

In 2011, Reichert held a commanding plurality in the mayor’s race over Ellis, the late state Sen. Robert Brown and former firefighter Paul Bronson. Reichert drew 8,180 votes, well ahead of Ellis’ 6,422 votes, but he fell 2 percentage points shorts of winning the primary outright.

In the runoff, however, with a higher voter turnout and a fair share of Brown’s 1,556 votes going to Ellis, Reichert managed to win by just 537 votes.

Are the candidates expecting a similar scenario this time?

Reichert said he thinks the supporters of this year’s third-place finisher, Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart, share similar goals to his campaign. Hart finished with 4,140 votes last month.

“Sam Hart and I have a lot of things in common,” he said. “We want to build the community and come together. Sam Hart’s slogan was ‘Think Community.’ I represent a lot of those same ideas. I think I can come closer to getting those votes.”

Ellis, however, noted that Hart hasn’t endorsed either candidate publicly, so he thinks those votes and others are in play. Hart said Friday he had no plans to make an endorsement.

As the race winds down to its final days, tension has risen between both camps.

The Reichert campaign noted a social media posting from Ellis supporters that urged voters to go to a party held in the same shopping center as the Board of Elections office on Oct. 5. The event offered free food, drinks and entertainment to attendees, as well as a $100 prize to the person who brought the most voters to the polls for early voting that day.

“It’s appalling to me,” Reichert said. “It may not be Mayor Ellis -- it may be overly enthusiastic supporters. But I think it’s improper, but perhaps not illegal.”

Ellis denied that his organization had anything to do with it.

“We don’t do that,” he said. “We fought very hard for the right to vote, and no one can buy our vote. It’s about turnout now. They’re making a cowardly statement.”

Ellis, in turn, has accused Reichert of ducking him rather than engaging in a formal debate.

“This guy has refused to debate,” he said. “If his record is so strong, why not?”

Reichert noted he has taken part in three political forums with Ellis heading into the runoff, as well as several debates heading into the special election.

“We did not consider a debate with Jack Ellis to be either productive or necessary,” he said. “We have spent more than 26 hours in forums and debates with Mr. Ellis this year alone and feel there is nothing to be added by additional debate.”

The six days of early voting were brisk, with more than 900 people showing up at the Board of Elections office most days.

Sally Renfroe, 68, an Ellis supporter, said she hopes there are enough voters to narrow the gap between the two candidates.

“I hope it goes well and it’ll be what it’s supposed to be when it’s all ended,” she said.

Pamela Rankin, 53, who voted for Reichert, said she’s not concerned that his campaign will suffer from voter apathy or overconfidence.

“I feel confident about his lead,” she said. “I think there’s going to be a good turnout this time.”

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