Shaheen, Chalk headed for runoff in Warner Robins mayor's race

WARNER ROBINS — The race for mayor now pits Chuck Shaheen against Chuck Chalk in a runoff election Dec. 1 to determine who will lead the city for the next four years.

Shaheen, a pharmaceutical sales representative, took in 2,269 votes, about 38 percent of the total tally, while Chalk took in 1,941 votes, about 33 percent. Councilman Clifford Holmes Jr. fell just short with 1,724 votes, about 29 percent.

“I wouldn’t have expected three candidates in a race this close,” said Chalk, a program manager at Robins Air Force Base. “The next step, by this weekend, is strategy. We’ve got to work on a way to generate voter turnout for the race.”

Shaheen left City Hall early to be with supporters at local restaurant Shahenshah Diner at 2028 Watson Blvd., where a celebration was being held in his honor. Holmes, currently the councilman for Post 5, said he was disappointed with the outcome.

“It seems the city is willing to accept slowing down some as someone new comes in to learn the job,” said Holmes, who also served as acting mayor for 70 days late last year. “I offered them experience, and it seemed the citizens wanted experience.

“I’m disappointed that the vote didn’t reflect that.”

The men waited with other candidates inside City Hall for election results, which were updated on the city’s Web site starting around 8 p.m. as precinct totals became available.

About 18 percent of the city’s 31,723 registered voters participated in the election, either through early voting, absentee ballots or voting during the day Tuesday. A runoff election is required when one candidate fails to receive more than 50 percent of the votes cast.

The weeks leading up to the election were relatively quiet until Sept. 28, when Mayor Donald Walker, who was running for re-election, died from a single self-inflicted gunshot wound. The weeks following saw the remaining candidates shift some of the focus in their campaigns toward individual platforms and away from the unified theme of change.

Walker, who appeared on the ballot but was counted as a throwaway vote, still took votes but not enough to sway the outcome, Elections Superintendent Vida Rawls said.

For more than an hour, Chalk and Holmes made their way through about 150 people crowding council chambers in City Hall, receiving words of encouragement as they awaited their fate as absentee ballots were counted by hand. Chalk said he’ll be back to work trying to gain new voters soon.

“In any race, typically the person who comes in second does well in the runoff,” he said. “But you can’t take that for granted. We have to get out and work hard.”

Earlier in the day, each man took to the campaign trail, making time at various polling stations to wave signs, speak with voters and vote themselves.

Shaheen was standing across the street from the Warner Robins Recreation Center when a man walked up to him. The man, wearing an Army hat with a old pin that said “Army Dad” on it, said he’d traveled back from his vacation home in North Carolina just to vote in the general election. Of course, he said, his vote was for Shaheen.

“That means a lot to me,” Shaheen said after the man left.

To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.