WARNER ROBINS — Warner Robins City Councilman Clifford Holmes Jr. quietly threw his hat in the ring late Friday afternoon to try and unseat longtime Warner Robins Mayor Donald Walker.
Holmes, 65, currently in his fourth year holding the Warner Robins City Council Post 5 seat, is the second person in recent weeks to announce an intention to challenge Walker in the Nov. 3 election. Chuck Shaheen, 48, a pharmaceutical sales representative from a family with deep roots in the area, also has announced his plans to run for mayor. Walker, 60, has said he will seek re-election. The last day to qualify is Sept. 4.
“I feel the time is now,” Holmes said about his candidacy. “Mr. Walker has done an outstanding job, but he’s not currently living up to the expectations of the citizens of Warner Robins in terms of accountability and accessibility.
“To me, I’m not running against Donald Walker. I’m running for the citizens.”
Holmes, a retired educator, said he plans to work more toward providing an atmosphere of full disclosure in the city’s government. He said while he was interim mayor last year as Walker sought treatment for an injured foot, he held meetings with department heads and tried to work together with other city leaders in the best interests of Warner Robins.
Walker did not respond to messages left on his cell phone Saturday.
Walker has led Warner Robins since becoming mayor in a special election in 1994. He easily won re-election in 1997 and 2001. He ran uncontested in 2005.
In his tenure, the city has experienced unprecedented growth: More than 17 square miles have been annexed into the city limits. U.S. Census Bureau estimates say there are now more than 60,000 people living in the city, up from less than 44,000 in 1990. Many have taken an interest in this latest contest, with some in the area saying new blood is needed to continue moving Warner Robins in the right direction as it continues to grow.
“When a person stays in the same spot for so long, they start messing things up,” said 73-year-old Warner Robins resident Johnny Polk. “After awhile, you need something different.”
But while Walker’s opponents tout the city’s growth as the reason for new blood in the mayor’s office, some think they’re forgetting the role he played in that growth.
“I’ve seen Warner Robins grow from nothing to what it is under Donald Walker,” said McLendon Blue, 77, a retired city employee. “I’ve seen kids taken off the streets ... and their lives are turned around. The city of Warner Robins pays for that.”
Holmes said Shaheen was too green in his political background to run the city. Efforts to reach Shaheen on Saturday were unsuccessful.
Holmes also said Walker’s lack of openness with his ideas and limited visibility do greater harm to the city than they do to help.
“A good leader plans for succession,” he said. “(Under Walker), everything’s a secret. I believe in keeping the city and the council involved.”