The runoff for Macon mayor on Tuesday generated a remarkable series of results, well beyond incumbent Mayor Robert Reichert’s narrow margin of victory over former Mayor C. Jack Ellis.
In the four-way Democratic mayoral primary July 19, with half the seats on City Council also in play along with state House and Senate seats, only about 37 percent of Macon’s 47,000 registered voters cast ballots in the mayor’s contest.
Tuesday, in a two-way mayoral race that shared the ballot only with a state Senate runoff, the city turnout leaped to 43 percent. That’s about 3,000 more voters who turned out in defiance of conventional electoral wisdom.
Reichert said Wednesday that his campaign coordinator, Andrew Blascovich, had urged him to spend more time campaigning.
Never miss a local story.
“Perhaps if I had known that it was going to be this close, I would have taken more time away from the duties of mayor,” Reichert said.
Instead, he kept up with normal mayoral tasks, even using precious campaign days to travel, such as a recent lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., with the Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition, he said.
“Mayor Ellis has been campaigning full-time,” Reichert said. “I think that’s paid off for him.”
Late Wednesday, Ellis said he has concerns about the way the elections were handled Tuesday and that he and his campaign “will be addressing that directly to the (Macon-Bibb County) Board of Elections.” He declined to provide any specifics.
“We are exploring all of our options,” he said.
On Ellis’ Facebook page, some of his supporters called for a recount, but Macon-Bibb County Elections Supervisor Elaine Carr said there’s no legal grounds to do so. Reichert’s margin of victory was more than 1 percent, the state legal threshold. In an age of electronic voting machines, a recount would produce the same result, since there were too few paper ballots to make a difference, she said.
When asked if he planned to run for public office again, Ellis said: “I would never say never” and recalled that when he left the mayor’s office in 2007 he didn’t expect then to run again.
But Ellis was clear Wednesday that he won’t simply fade into the background. He said he expects to keep his supporters actively involved in political issues such as this November’s special purpose local option sales tax, Macon-Bibb County consolidation efforts, the 2012 presidential race and future local races.
In reference to city programs being offered to all areas of the city, Ellis said, “We want to put Reichert on notice that we will be looking over his shoulder.”
Ellis, hoping for a third term, had lots of ground to make up after getting 38 percent of the July primary vote. It appeared that Reichert had to do little more than hold his own, since he came close to an outright majority in the first round.
In fact, the higher turnout Tuesday changed the playing field. Ellis’ turnout machine went into overdrive, resulting in big gains across the electoral map -- but Reichert gained as well -- unevenly, but enough for a 537-vote victory in a race with 20,077 ballots cast. That left Ellis in a familiar position. He lost the 1995 mayor’s race to Jim Marshall by a similar margin. Ellis went on to win the mayor’s seat in 1999 and 2003.
In campaigning, nothing can take the place of talking one-on-one to voters in their own neighborhoods, Reichert said. Mimicking an Ellis campaign partisan, Reichert imagined what many voters heard: “He don’t care about you! He don’t care about nothing out here!” Reichert bellowed.
The only way to counter that is to enable voters to reply, “Yeah, he cares. He was out here last week,” Reichert said. That’s what Reichert lamented that he didn’t do enough of, and he said that gave Ellis a position of advantage.
Though both candidates pumped up returns citywide, some things didn’t change. Reichert won only 11 of the city’s 28 voting precincts. All of those were the same 11 precincts, he won in the July primary.
The city was also polarized: Only three precincts were fairly closely divided; the rest went overwhelmingly for one candidate or another. Much of that apparently breaks down along racial lines. The three most evenly divided precincts are also among the city’s most thoroughly mixed, while Reichert’s strongest support came from overwhelmingly white areas. Though both candidates downplayed it during the election, racial overtones were obvious from many supporters’ comments, and Reichert acknowledged that race did still play a significant role.
But the fact that results were mixed at all shows that some progress has been made, and that race is no longer the predominant reason voters support a particular candidate, he said.
Reichert’s campaign obliquely acknowledged the issue by working “cooperation across any divide” into its theme. He said on election night that he wanted to start the next morning healing the rifts that elections always provoke. Asked how, Reichert said one way would be to re-establish ties with local ministers who backed Ellis.
“You reach out to the Ike Macks of the world,” Reichert said. The Rev. Ike Edwin Mack is pastor of Unionville Missionary Baptist Church, where Ellis is a member. He joined a group endorsing Ellis just days before the runoff, but he previously worked with Reichert on an anti-violence program. Reichert said he’ll ask Mack and others to collaborate on similar projects again.