WR candidates march toward runoff races

chwright@macon.comNovember 30, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- With the exception of Thanksgiving, mayoral candidates haven’t stopped working toward their Tuesday finish line.

In Tuesday’s runoff elections, city residents will select a mayor and the Post 1 at-large City Council member. Candidates say the outcome will depend on whether residents are motivated to go to the polls.

“When only 15 percent (of voters) vote in the (general election) and you are in my position trying to catch up, it is all about the numbers,” Councilman Mike Daley said in a text message Friday. “New voters are key for me to be successful.”

Daley is defending his council seat against Mayor Chuck Shaheen, who narrowly lost the seat outright in the Nov. 5 general election.

Randy Toms, a retired firefighter, and Joe Musselwhite, a retired city Public Works director, are dueling for the mayor’s seat. The two won the most votes in the general election that featured four other mayoral candidates.

“A lot of good things have happened since then,” Toms said. “A lot of folks have come on board and supported me. ... It’s still down to getting people out to vote.”

Candidates were disappointed with voter turnout in the general election, with one even blaming sagging turnout numbers for him not making it to a runoff. Of the about 35,000 registered voters in the city, about 6,600 of them cast ballots last month. About 2,500 of those voted during the three-week early voting period.

In the four days of early voting for the runoff election, nearly 1,600 voted.

Toms and Musselwhite said all they can do is get the word out and try to convince registered voters that their campaign is worth a trip to the polls.

Toms led the general election race and quickly earned endorsements from former opponents Chuck Chalk and Mike Brashear. The family of former Mayor Donald Walker and a few other community leaders also endorsed Toms.

Musselwhite said he isn’t concerned by the support Toms has received because he has strong support, too. He declined to name the community leaders backing his campaign.

“This isn’t about endorsements,” Musselwhite said. “This is about getting people to the polls and getting them to vote.”

Musselwhite spent most of the general election campaign season getting his name out in the community, placing large signs at almost every intersection.

This time around, he has touted his experience with the city’s government. When he was a city department director for more than a decade, Musselwhite said, he learned the city’s budget process, the legal boundaries, personnel training, infrastructure and emergency management.

“I have to get the message out there that I am the only candidate with the experience to lead our city,” Musselwhite said.

Toms has stuck to the same message in the general and runoff campaigns. He wants to lead the city and its employees in a unified manner. He openly admits he doesn’t yet have all of the answers for some city issues. But he said he would find the answers by working with city officials and employees to come up with the best solutions.

“I mean it when I say, ‘Together we can do better,’” Toms said, repeating what has become his unintended campaign slogan.

Toms said he has raised more than $45,000 for the campaign. Though he spent just about all of the $37,000 he raised before the general election, Toms said he has raised several thousand dollars since then. During this leg of the race, he spent more time in neighborhoods where he didn’t win in November, he said.

Musselwhite did not have an estimate on how much money he raised or how much he had left in his campaign account last week, and his state-required contributions form isn’t due until Tuesday. As of the Oct. 25 filing, Musselwhite had $10,000 left over from the $24,000 he raised. He said the week before the general election he intentionally saved money in case of a runoff.

In the past few weeks, Musselwhite has spent money on advertising and automated phone bank calls.

“I saved it for that purpose,” Musselwhite said. “When it’s over, I won’t have any money left.”

Shaheen did not return messages seeking comment for this story.

Shaheen has said he wants to continue serving the city while returning to the private sector full-time, and he said he wants to be a councilman because the council sets the vision for the city.

Daley has sold himself as the candidate who is already in the position. As a retiree whose only part-time job is managing rental properties, he said he has time to focus on the council job.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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