Tuesdays runoff election for the first mayor of Macon-Bibb Countys consolidated government left the winner, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, exhausted and elated, he said Wednesday, while the loser, former Mayor C. Jack Ellis, is considering what to do next.
I dont know. Im writing a book that I put on hold. I thought I would have had it published by now, Ellis said. Whether this was the last political chapter in the book I dont know, but I do intend to finish the book.
He plans to do some traveling and speaking, may resurrect his youth foundation, and has obligations as honorary consul general for Uganda, he said. But Ellis main focus will likely be continuing-education and antipoverty efforts.
Im really committed to that in our town, he said.
Four weeks of feverish campaigning brought gains for both candidates. In the Sept. 17 general election Reichert drew 17,821 votes to Ellis 10,852. But there were five other candidates in that race, whose 7,299 votes left Reichert barely short of the absolute majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Supporters of other candidates had a clearer choice when the race narrowed, Reichert said.
Some of those people went to vote for one of the two of us, he said. Reichert thinks more of them chose him, while others who hadnt voted Sept. 17 turned out this time.
In Tuesdays runoff, between only Reichert and Ellis, Reichert got 25,899 votes and Ellis 15,182. Thats an increase of 45 percent for Reichert and 40 percent for Ellis.
Altogether, 35,972 people voted in the Sept. 17 contest. On Tuesday, 14 percent more turned out: 41,081, plus 101 who didnt vote in the mayors race. That put participation just over 50 percent of Bibb Countys 81,348 registered voters, up from about 44 percent on Sept. 17.
So what motivated more voters to turn out for both candidates, with the proportion favoring Reichert?
Ellis said his campaign shot for 21,000 to 22,000 votes, roughly twice his Sept. 17 total. He fell nearly 7,000 votes short of that, but even if the goal had been met, Ellis acknowledged, it would still have been far short of Reichert.
Obviously it didnt go our way. Were disappointed but were not devastated by the loss, Ellis said. We had projected that we would do better, but we are very proud and pleased with our effort.
More money for more advertising would have helped, but that might not have made the difference either, he said.
I dont want to second-guess myself on it, because the people worked so hard, Ellis said. I campaigned as hard as I knew how, right up to the eleventh hour.
Reicherts most recent campaign finance report, filed Oct. 11, showed him raising $425,947, with $32,475.37 still on hand six days before the election. Ellis report, filed the same day, showed a total of $76,712.26 in contributions, with just $7,463.70 remaining six days out.
That meant Reichert could outspend Ellis by more than five to one overall, and more than four to one in the last week.
Money paid for a deluge of Reichert advertising, but most important was what those ads conveyed, Reichert said: a spirit of optimism and record of success through inclusiveness and cooperation.
The message that we continued to hammer on was, one, resolving the financial problems of the city, bringing in new jobs and making our neighborhoods more attractive and safer, he said.
That message was delivered through media, phone calls and door-to-door canvassing, Reichert said.
We employed every effort, every method of voter contact, he said.
Lots of voter apathy
Ellis said he expected higher turnout in precincts where hed run strongly before, but he encountered a depressingly high level of voter apathy. Many people didnt know they could vote again in the runoff -- or even that one was scheduled. And some people had just lost faith in the electoral system, he said.
Reicherts worst showing in raw numbers came in the East Macon 1 precinct, just across the Ocmulgee River from downtown, where he got 62 votes to Ellis 558. Reicherts best was Rutland 1, in the south end of Bibb County, where he got 2,024 to Ellis 405.
Ellis lowest was Howard 8, in north Macon on the east side of Forsyth Road, where he got 56 votes to Reicherts 1,559. Ellis best was Godfrey 6, around the intersection of Eisenhower Parkway and Pio Nono Avenue, where he got 816 to Reicherts 249.
Reichert said Wednesday that he hadnt looked at detailed precinct results, but that he worked to reconnect with former supporters in the city -- and in north Bibb, where he was on the ballot as a state representative candidate from 1992 to 2002 -- while appealing to voters whod never seen his name on a ballot, such as those in south Bibb, Lake Wildwood and Lizella.
We didnt neglect any area, he said.
Ellis sharply denounced the performance of the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections, saying that voting snafus and long waits discouraged many prospective voters. He said he hopes the new government, which takes over in January, will take steps to fix voting problems before the 2014 election.
Reichert said he, too, was frustrated by Tuesdays election management. Whether the fault of election officials or the technology, something caused a miserable time getting results, he said.
Ellis said one other late feature of the campaign disgusted him: an anonymous flier stuck on cars outside several churches on Sunday. Using racially inflammatory language, it accused Reichert, a Democrat, and many of his supporters of secretly being Republicans. The flier urged people to get even for the December 2012 shooting death of Sammie Junebug Davis Jr. by Macon police -- likening it to the February 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. -- by voting for Ellis.
Ellis said he didnt know who made or distributed the flier, and that no one associated with his campaign was known to be involved.
I am sickened by it. Ive never, ever read something so disgusting in my life, to be perfectly honest with you, he said. The community is already divided along racial lines, and the flier did not represent anything he or his campaign stood for, Ellis said.
Reichert said he kept his own campaign focused on the candidates respective records, not personal attacks. He said he likes Ellis personally and respects him as a fellow Vietnam veteran.
I think he ran a hard campaign, Reichert said. He certainly deserves a lot of respect for his ability to get people to the polls to vote. He is a formidable opponent.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.