The morning after his surprising, outright win in his bid for a second term as Warner Robins mayor, Randy Toms went to the Museum of Aviation to launch a rocket.
He was participating in an event for high school students promoting science, technology, engineering, arts and math education — or STEAM. With help from Air Force Reserve Command military personnel, the students were using a PVC rocket launcher powered by air pressure to simulate sending a message to aliens on another planet.
Some of the students’ attempts were duds, going just a few meters. A good shot was around 50 meters. Then Toms was offered a try. After getting some instruction, he set the controls to his liking — not that he made any pretense of knowing what he was doing — and fired. His rocket went 70 meters, drawing loud cheers.
“That’s what happened last night,” he joked.
Indeed, his election shot Tuesday night also went a good bit farther than most people were expecting. He faced former mayor and current at-large councilman Chuck Shaheen, who held a 2-0 election record. The other opponent, Joe Musselwhite, made the runoff against Toms in the 2013 election. Both challengers ran vigorous campaigns to try to unseat Toms.
That’s why most people, even some at Toms’ election party, figured the mayor’s race would go to a runoff. Toms said he was hoping to avoid a runoff, but he wasn’t counting on it.
One of his volunteers did some polling and found Toms running at 46 percent. He ended up getting 53 percent, with 33 percent for Shaheen and 14 percent for Musselwhite.
“We knew we had a shot to get to the win without a runoff, but we knew we had some work to do,” he said. “We were surprised that we reached that 53 percent, but we were not absolutely shocked.”
Tensions between Toms and Shaheen that had been in the background began to boil over into public view in the weeks before the election. Asked whether that played a role, Toms said, “I’m sure it probably did and I hate that,” he said. “I hate that the tension is there.”
Warner Robins voters still have a decision to make. Daron Lee, a former councilman, and Eric Langston are in a runoff to fill the Post 1 seat vacated when Shaheen decided to run for mayor. The runoff will be held Dec. 5.
“I believe in both of them that are still in the race,” Toms said. “I believe they have the heart of the city in mind.”
He said he wants to speak with both of them to learn more about their views on certain issues, but he does not expect to make an endorsement in the race.
Regardless of the outcome of the runoff, it appears likely that the City Council will go forward with creation of a city administrator position in January. The council approved the position in August, but it opted not to move forward with filling it until January. The winner of the Post 1 seat will be the only new face on the council, and both candidates have expressed strong support for a city administrator.
Toms says he wants to give the city clerk more authority and make that position similar to a city administrator, not create a new position, so that will likely be the first big issue to face next year.
“I think we can work something out on that,” he said. “Hopefully the council will sit down and talk to me about this. I think we are going to be able to reach some kind of compromise on that. There are some administrative things that somebody can do that can help me do more to benefit the city.”
Warner Robins does not have term limits. Toms said he would like to serve as mayor for 12 years, which would mean one more term, but he said he hasn’t decided for sure that he will run one more time.