Schlesinger beats Ficklin in Macon-Bibb’s District 2 race

jgaines@macon.comJanuary 14, 2014 

For the third time in four months, Larry Schlesinger captured more votes than Henry Ficklin in the race for the District 2 seat on the new Macon-Bibb County Commission.

Final unofficial results from the Bibb County Board of Elections, arriving at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, gave Schlesinger a 370-vote margin of victory in a race that drew only 1,902 voters. That’s 23.5 percent of the registered voters in the district.

Schlesinger received 1,136 votes to Ficklin’s 766.

“We’re at a point where the margin of victory definitely shows where the voters in District 2 stand right now,” Schlesinger said Tuesday night.

He got a plurality of votes in a three-way September race with Ficklin and Paul Bronson. Then Schlesinger won an October runoff with Ficklin by just 26 votes in a race with nearly 3,400 ballots cast.

But Ficklin challenged the results because of voting problems that involved some residents getting incorrect ballots. A judge called for Tuesday’s revote.

Apart from early voting results, which were released first Tuesday, the first precinct results came in about 7:30 p.m., half an hour after polls closed. Precincts in the east and south part of the district came in first, giving Ficklin a substantial lead. But the final two of the six precincts leaned strongly in Schlesinger’s favor. The totals included not many more than 100 absentee ballots, board of elections staff said.

Ficklin arrived at the elections board office about 7:50 p.m. and immediately began taking issue with the posted results.

“It’s going to be very close,” he predicted just after 8 p.m. He left before the last few precincts reported.

After the results were known, Ficklin said he might challenge Tuesday’s outcome as well. He didn’t immediately plan to do so but would have lawyers scrutinize what he said were further problems. Among those, he accused the board of elections of intending “for someone else to win this election.”

“I don’t know whether we’re going to have another election or not,” Ficklin said.

Had the October runoff election been done correctly, he would have won that time, he said.

“By all rights, that election was mine,” Ficklin said.

He repeated an earlier claim that the district’s lines were drawn specifically to make it hard for him to win, by including more affluent areas than the east Macon neighborhoods he represented on City Council.

“I knew from the beginning it was going to be an uphill battle,” Ficklin said.

In any case, Ficklin said his political career may not be over.

“There’s a lot of open seats that will be coming up next year,” he said, mentioning legislative seats and the Macon Water Authority board.

As precincts came in, Schlesinger’s representative Mike Kaplan called Schlesinger with updates. But when final results were handed out, the elections website tally showed 2,109 votes cast, about 200 more votes than the elections board reported. That led Kaplan to loudly demand an explanation. Board of elections staff told him the online total was handled by the state, and that whatever the cause, the locally reported total was correct.

Schlesinger kept media out of his house on Park Place until final results came in. Tuesday was also his 63rd birthday, and after results were known, he posed for cameras with a piece of cake while answering questions.

Schlesinger said Tuesday night’s results were so decisive that he didn’t think another challenge would have any chance of success. He also said voters wouldn’t tolerate further delay.

“This has cost the county a tremendous amount of money this third time around,” he said. Election officials estimate it costs about $60,000 to run a local election.

Schlesinger said he expects to be sworn in by the commission’s next regular meeting next week. Once in office, his priority will be teamwork -- working closely with other commissioners and Mayor Robert Reichert on common goals, he said.

“The voters of District 2 have basically rejected the politics of division that have really characterized the past and the Macon City Council,” Schlesinger said. “I think they realize it’s a new day and it’s time to move on as a unified community. They expressed that in the vote for consolidation, and they expressed that in the vote today.”

Additionally, he attributed his victory to “hundreds” of volunteers who reached almost everyone in the district.

Schlesinger had an enormous financial advantage, according to reports filed with the state. According to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission website Thursday, Schlesinger has raised $129,544 altogether, with $46,437 still on hand; while Ficklin got $900 in contributions, with $243 on hand. Ficklin also loaned his campaign $8,500, which he said was mostly spent on attorney fees. Schlesinger spent about $11,000 on attorney fees.

Adam Rugusea, Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Macon bureau chief, contributed to this report.

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