Mayor vs. ex-mayor: Reichert, Ellis to vie for repeat

Macon’s mayoral election is headed for an Aug. 16 runoff, a showdown between the past and present, with both candidates claiming they represent the city’s future.

Incumbent Mayor Robert Reichert’s 8,180 votes left him just short of the 50 percent mark that would have given him an outright win. He’ll face two-term former Mayor C. Jack Ellis in four weeks in a runoff. Ellis garnered 6,422 votes out of the 17,071 cast, or 37.6 percent, in the four-way race.

Former Georgia Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown came in a distant third with just 1,556 votes, or 9.1 percent; while political newcomer Paul Bronson, running a shoestring campaign, took 913 votes, or 5.3 percent of the total votes cast in the race.

Reichert, a 62-year-old attorney, is seeking a second term. Tuesday night, he circulated among a crowd of more than 100 supporters in the Armory Ballroom, across Poplar Street from City Hall. Among the crowd were Unity-N-Community founder Al Tillman, Councilwoman Nancy White, unsuccessful City Council candidate Ron Lemon and several top-level city staff, all focused on a big screen that projected election results.

Reichert kept his own vote calculations in a notebook, remaining hopeful until the end that he’d avoid a runoff.

The mayor said he planned to “hit the ground running tomorrow.”

“We will do what we have to do,” he said.

That boils down to reiterating his record and his plans, seeking to convince voters that he’s the best qualified candidate to improve Macon’s image and actual position.

In addition to leading Ellis by a considerable margin, Reichert also topped Ellis financially by nearly three to one, leaving him well-positioned for a longer running campaign.

Ellis, mayor of Macon from 1999 to 2007, said he never expected to raise as much money as Reichert. He’s won previous campaigns in which he was heavily outspent, compensating in other ways, he said.

“Hard work, that’s how we compensate for it,” Ellis said. “Shoe leather.”

Campaign staff said Ellis spent much of the evening at home, then took his wife to a late dinner. He returned to his headquarters after 10 p.m. There, more than 50 people crowded into the former bank building on Hardeman Avenue in a party atmosphere, with supporters talking over music and children.

Ellis, 65, was legally barred from seeking a third consecutive term. But with four years since he was in the office, he was free to seek the mayor’s office again.

He wants to radically change the city, which has lost population for years, by razing abandoned and nearly empty neighborhoods to save money.

He plans to take a few hours to analyze Tuesday’s results, and like Reichert, start over Wednesday morning.

“We’re ready for the fight,” Ellis said. “Hopefully, we’ll get those who did not vote in the primary to vote in the runoff. Our goal is still to get one vote more than the next guy.”

He wouldn’t discuss details of strategy, but he hinted at it in commending Bronson and Brown for their runs.

“I look forward to meeting with both of them in the very near future, to see what sort of role they would like to play in my campaign,” Ellis said.

Knocked out of the running was Brown, 61, putting him out of office for the first time in 20 years. He had to resign his longtime state Senate post to qualify for mayor.

Brown awaited results at Greater Zion Hill Baptist Church on Napier Avenue, where a banner reading “It’s our turnout, friends!” hung above the buffet table in the fellowship hall. But only about two dozen followers were left in the big room shortly after 9 p.m. when the outcome was clear.

Brown remained outwardly stoic in facing his overwhelming loss. But he declined to comment to The Telegraph.

As he was throughout the campaign, Bronson was upbeat as he spent election night with supporters at his Waverland Drive home. He’s not sure whether he’ll seek to regain his job as a Macon-Bibb County firefighter -- which he had to resign to run for mayor -- but said he plans to seek the mayor’s office again in four or eight years.

“I know now what it takes to run a campaign,” said Bronson, who turned 26 during the campaign. “My eyes are open now to the political world, of how things really work.”

He offered to work with whoever wins this time, helping to bridge divisions in the city. Bronson urged voters to accept Tuesday’s results graciously and focus on solving the city’s problems.

“I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to run and serve the people,” he said. “Win or lose, the people of this city were heard, and that’s the important thing.”

There is no Republican mayoral candidate, but 2007 Republican candidate David Cousino has said he’ll run as an independent write-in for the Nov. 8 general election.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.