WARNER ROBINS — Local businessman Chuck Shaheen filed paperwork Thursday to face four-term incumbent Mayor Donald Walker in November’s elections.
A rumored candidate for some time, Shaheen took an official step by filing a “declaration of intention to accept campaign contributions” at City Hall.
That doesn’t lock him into the mayor’s race, but it does name Jessica Shoudel as his campaign manager and Shane Reagan as his treasurer. It’s also required before he can raise money, which he’ll need to do to face Walker, a powerful incumbent and veteran campaigner who confirmed Thursday that he plans to seek re-election.
In a telephone interview, Shaheen said he plans a formal announcement next week. But his comments pointed to a man already running.
“I’m not running against Mayor Walker,” he said. “I’m running on my own ideas and my own campaign... You won’t ever, ever hear me say anything bad. I just want to build on what he’s done.”
A more final deadline in this and other city races will come in early September. That’s when qualifying will be held for the mayor’s office and three City Council seats. All the seats are nonpartisan.
Walker was pushed by the City Council last year to take some time off for health reasons. Prior to that, he’d been out of the office a significant amount of time because of a foot injury and missed council meetings, members said at the time. But the mayor seems to have come back stronger and determined to win a fifth term.
“I’ve got a record of 14 years of lowering the millage rate,” Walker said Thursday. “The city of Warner Robins has unprecedented growth, and I’m talking about orderly growth. Revenues have never been any better, but it’s real delicate and that’s the thing I’d be careful about if I was a voter.”
Former state Rep. Sonny Watson said he had lunch with Walker a few weeks ago. Said Watson: “He’s fired up.”
Shaheen is in the pharmaceutical business, and his parents owned Shaheen Office Supplies for many years. He said he’s hearing support from people all over the city who’d like him to run. He said “the main thing” is to “listen to the people and empower the people with ideas that will make our city better.”
Several local political watchers acknowledged that there is, among some, sentiment that the mayor should move on after nearly 16 years in office. Still, he will be tough to beat, they said. He was unopposed in his last re-election bid, but his 2001 race against former state Rep. Pam Bohannon quickly became a bitter affair that he won with 64 percent of the vote.
In 1997, Walker won re-election with 85 percent of the vote.
“He’s got lots and lots of friends out there,” Houston County Commissioner Tom McMichael said.