WARNER ROBINS -- The two blue collar candidates in the Warner Robins mayoral race came out on top Tuesday and will head to a runoff.
“I think it’s exciting the two hometown guys are in a runoff,” said former Public Works Director Joe Musselwhite, who will face retired firefighter Randy Toms Dec. 3. “That’s the way it should be.”
Toms was the top vote getter with Musselwhite narrowly squeaking into runoff. Until the final tallies were in, it seemed Robins Air Force Base employee Chuck Chalk or Councilman Daron Lee might make the runoff.
“We left it all on the table, did all we could do, but unfortunately, (voter) turnout stayed low,” Chalk said. “We needed to drive new voter turnout, and we couldn’t do that, apparently.”
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About 6,600 residents cast ballots in the race, 2,600 of whom voted early.
According to unofficial vote tallies, Toms had 1,626 votes (24.6 percent) to Musselwhite’s 1,511 (22.9 percent). Lee was third, with 1,466 votes (22.2 percent). Chalk, who narrowly lost the runoff in the 2009 election, had 1,373 votes (20.79 percent), and former Councilman Mike Brashear earned 539 votes (8.2 percent). Eva Folse had 89 votes (1.3 percent), but she may have influenced the outcome.
“I’m excited about the next step,” Toms said. “I’m kind of at a loss for words at this point.”
While most candidates wound up at City Hall by the end of the night, Musselwhite held a separate party at the International City Golf Course clubhouse. At one point, there were more than 50 supporters at there.
“Everybody go home,” Musselwhite said after the results rolled in, fighting back tears. “I ain’t a show horse. I’m a workhorse.”
Both Toms and Musselwhite were making their first run for office, facing off against a field of mostly political veterans.
Toms took an early lead when the first half of the six city precincts were tallied. But second place was a hard-fought battle between Chalk, Lee and Musselwhite.
The close third-place finish ends Lee’s political career for now, but he said he isn’t sure if he will seek office again. His council term, Post 5, ends Dec. 31.
“I don’t need the title in order to be a positive influence in the community,” Lee said.
Chalk said it’s “not likely, at all,” he will run for mayor a third time.
“You run twice, and you’re in a runoff, and you’re not in a runoff,” Chalk said. “And I just have to think personally that this isn’t where I’m supposed to be going, so I’m going to start looking at my options.”
Chalk said he will support Toms in the runoff. Lee said he will meet with his campaign team and decide at a later time who, if anyone, he will support for the runoff.
“He’s a man of integrity, a man I believe can serve the city -- continue to serve the city -- very well,” Chalk said. “Anything I can do, I’ll be offering up to Mr. Toms.”
Before leaving City Hall, each of the mayoral candidates congratulated Toms. Musselwhite said he had talked to Toms earlier in the day but not after the results.
“I’ll probably call them tomorrow,” he said. “Everybody is exhausted. I’m not even sure I have all their phone numbers tonight.”
Musselwhite said he will seek support from anywhere he can going forward.
“We just gotta go to the next level,” he said. “Now is the time to really go to work. We have to get our message out a little better and look at the polls where our weaknesses were and capture some more votes.”
Musselwhite won the most early voting and absentee ballots, which took him over the top. He also did well in the Houston Mall and Miller Elementary precincts.
Toms also did well with early votes. He won the most votes in the Houston Mall and Feagin Mill Middle School precincts.
Toms said he doesn’t have much left in his war chest, and he will have to do some fundraising.
“I’m not too worried about that,” he said. “I think everybody has heard my message.”
Telegraph writers Wayne Crenshaw and Andres Lopez contributed to this report. Josh Glasscock from the Center for Collaborative Journalism also contributed. To contact Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.