In the end, perhaps the one thing that hurt former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis the most in his failed bid to become Bibb County’s tax boss was this: his name.
The mere sound sends some locals into a tizzy.
And in what may well have been his final run at elective office — a loss by 4,777 votes in the county tax commissioner’s race — the local stir by all appearances reached an unprecedented lather.
An uprising of traditionally Republican voters crossed party lines, many of them no doubt to cast anti-Ellis ballots.
On Tuesday, Ellis — Macon’s first and so far only African-American mayor whose at-times controversial and polarizing two terms stretched from 1999 to 2007 — garnered 39 percent of the vote.
The results weren’t far off the percentages the last time he ran for office and lost. In that race, the 2013 mayoral campaign against Robert Reichert, Ellis drew 37 percent of the vote.
On Wednesday afternoon when a Telegraph reporter called Ellis to ask about “autopsying” his latest try for office, he seemed in good spirits. He laughed.
“That’d be a way of putting it,” he said, “closing the casket on the political dead.”
But is Ellis, a man who at age 70 still takes 20-mile bicycle rides and goes for three-mile jogs, ready to declare his future candidacy a corpse?
“I’m not dead yet,” he said. “I never know. ... I never say never, but by the same token, I have absolutely no plans. I’m not eyeing any office. I’m really not. But I can’t rule that out. I’m a young 70.”
The idea of seeing Jack Ellis get elected tax commissioner was anathema to them.
Chris Grant, political science professor
As for what went wrong in Tuesday’s election, he said not enough voters went to the polls in predominantly black precincts. It’s that simple. Well, that and the united throng of Republican crossovers.
The prospect of Ellis as the county’s tax boss no doubt motivated the fiercest Ellis detractors, especially those who didn’t want a former mayor whose critics decried his money-managing skills in a job handling tax dollars.
“I think this really motivated folks that don’t like him,” Mercer University political science professor Chris Grant said. “The idea of seeing Jack Ellis get elected tax commissioner was anathema to them.”
Ellis’ opponent, Wade McCord, swept the county’s predominantly white precincts by wide margins, including one precinct along Bass Road in north Macon by a 1,605-to-256 margin.
In 11 precincts that have in the past been Ellis strongholds, ones that stretch from the city’s east side, across Unionville, down Houston Avenue and out through southwest Macon, Ellis netted a total of 4,702 votes.
McCord, on the other hand, reeled in 4,921 votes from just five precincts in the county’s northern and southern arcs.
“Rightly or wrongly,” Grant said, “Ellis is a polarizing figure in Macon. ... So putting his name on the ballot has the effect of driving out a group of folks that really don’t like him.”
Ellis described his detractors as “very adamant.”
“I don’t know what I ever did to them,” he went on, “but it definitely gets their goat, if you will, when I’m on the ballot. They come out in record numbers. We drive turnout both for and against us. ... People get riled up.”
Ellis on Wednesday acknowledged his supporters and said the GOP faction just proved too great.
“The Republicans,” he said, “hijacked the Democratic primary.”