WARNER ROBINS -- Just a month from now, retired firefighter Randy Toms will become the new mayor of his hometown. He edged out Joe Musselwhite, retired city Public Works director, by an almost 2-1 margin in Tuesday’s runoff election for mayor.
“You’ll never know what this means to me by having y’all in this room,” Toms said, wiping his eyes as he looked around at family, friends, supporters and city employees gathered at the Courtyard by Marriott.
Toms garnered 65.5 percent of the vote, earning 3,159 votes to Musselwhite’s 1,662. Results are unofficial until certified by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.
About 4,700 people -- or 14.5 percent of registered voters -- cast ballots in the runoff. That compares to a 20 percent voter turnout for November’s general election.
With tears in his eyes, Toms hugged his wife, dad, children and grandchildren after learning he had officially become the mayor-elect.
But there was one family member who wasn’t there to hug: his mother. Toms nonetheless recognized his deceased mother’s contribution to his win. It was her birthday after all.
“What a gift,” he said, before asking his 200 or so supporters to sing “Happy Birthday” for her.
As Toms’ supporters cheered and he gave a victory speech, a different scenario played out at Musselwhite’s camp.
Musselwhite and supporters watched the results come in at International City Golf Club. Musselwhite lost every precinct, but mathematically it wasn’t over until the nearly 1,700 absentee ballots and early votes were counted. Once those numbers posted, Musselwhite gave a concession speech.
“The people spoke, and I still love them,” Musselwhite said. “I still love my city.”
He gave a statement to The Telegraph after the concession, but he declined to answer any questions, including whether he might run again someday.
“I appreciate everyone who supported me,” he said. “I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot of things about the city.”
Musselwhite and Toms were the top two vote-getters in the Nov. 5 general election among six candidates.
Toms quickly gained endorsements from two of his former opponents, Chuck Chalk and Mike Brashear, to add to the support of several community leaders. Still, Musselwhite said last week he wasn’t concerned about Toms’ endorsements and declined to name any major community supporters of his own.
“This isn’t about endorsements,” Musselwhite said. “This is about getting people to the polls and getting them to vote.”
In his victory speech, Toms recognized Larry Snellgrove, a local businessman, for supporting Toms since the first candidate forum of the season. He said Snellgrove likely distributed hundreds of signs and began making large signs before he even knew Toms.
“But I know him now,” Toms said.
Snellgrove said Tuesday he plucked Toms as a favorite because Toms genuinely wanted to improve the image of City Council relations and find real solutions to the city’s problems, even if it meant asking for help.
“I’ve got children,” Snellgrove said. “He’s got children. I just want them to have the same opportunities I had to make a future here in this community. I truly believe, in his heart, it’s about Warner Robins.”
Staff writer Wayne Crenshaw contributed to this report.