Article Comment 

Democracy in plain view


Birney Imes



On the second floor of the Lowndes courthouse, there is a room where on election night candidates gather with their family and supporters, media and political junkies to watch returns as they come in. To get to that fishbowl of a place, you take the steps or elevator and walk down a long hall littered with clusters of people talking about events of the day. 


Not to romanticize it, but this is the heartbeat of democracy. One man (or woman), one vote. On this night all across the state, in all of its 82 counties, this drama is playing out. 


People come and go throughout the evening. Some are dressed like they're headed to a cocktail party; others wear running shoes and jeans. Seasoned incumbents show up when victory is assured. First-time candidates arrive with wide-eyed wonder and smiles that fade as they realize voters are staying with the status quo.  


Perhaps those who enjoy it most are the unopposed incumbents like Greg Merchant, who spent most of the night leaning against the back wall of the room in the company of his teenage daughter, Brailey. 


At 8:15 City Councilmen Kabir Kareem and Joseph Mickens were standing in the dark in front of the courthouse. Upstairs the circuit clerk's office was posting the results of the first boxes. Kareem, a Leroy Brooks ally, said his man had won by 400 votes over Roger Larsen. Brooks' poll watchers at his five precincts called in the count to campaign headquarters, which for Brooks is a small building just east of the courthouse. 


"Roger ran a good campaign," Kareem acknowledged. 


Larsen, who waled away at Brooks in print for years, took the fight to the streets. The Kansas native and former owner of The Packet campaigned hard, knocking on lots of doors, the meat and potatoes of local political campaigning. Brooks, who has been in office for a generation, has spent that time fortifying his position and is widely thought to be unassailable. 


Not to be overlooked, Brooks is local, something Larsen, despite having been here for more than two decades, is not. The home-field advantage is at times difficult to overcome. Ask Shane Tompkins. 


There are exceptions; Columbus once elected a Pennsylvania native for mayor. He happened to be a media figure, too. 


Larsen, as did other candidates, offered himself as an alternative, and the voters said no. You have to admire and appreciate anyone who enters the arena. The process is better for it, new ideas, new people. Still, in one sense, it's a baring of the soul, and the rejection can be a searing experience. 


County Schools Superintendent elect Lynn Wright knows a thing or two about a searing experience. The former New Hope principal, who lost his job over the purchase of a lawnmower -- conventional wisdom has it he was victim of a vendetta against embattled baseball coach Stacy Hester -- emerged from a large field in the primaries. The night of the first primary, when the outlook was bleak, Wright stood out front of the courthouse with his sons. Then the New Hope box came in, and Wright was back in the game.  


Wright and his wife Ginger spent most of the evening Tuesday watching returns at the courthouse with their campaign managers Paula Gregory and Spence Andrews hovering over them like two mindful children.  


"The Lord works in mysterious ways," Wright said Tuesday night, his victory assured.  


Wright says he intends to spend the time between now and his January swearing in getting ready for the job. 


Unsuccessful candidate Willie Petty was undaunted. Considering his slim resources and an opponent who happens to be the most powerful of the bunch, Petty's showing against Dist. 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders was respectable. By 9:30 the ever ebullient Petty, his lovely wife Clara in-tow, took the elevator down and walked out to their parked car in front of the courthouse. 


We talked for a moment about our children. Years ago Petty and I had sons in the same Boy Scout troop. As he opened the car door for his wife, I asked him about grandchildren. He held up five fingers and smiled before getting in the car and driving off. Life goes on. 


Again, thanks to all who entered the fray. The community is stronger for it. To the voters who voted, you did your part. To those who didn't, shame on you all. 


Birney Imes is the publisher of The Commercial Dispatch. E-mail him at [email protected]


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment thom geiger commented at 11/9/2011 5:24:00 PM:

Birney, Birney, Birney, here we are again at the moment of truth in local news reporting.
"Larsen, as did other candidates, offered himself as an alternative, and the voters said no."
Oh really. The voters eh? According to your own newspaper's published totals, the votes in District 5 were Leroy Brooks, 1731 votes for 58.9% and Roger Larsen, 1207 votes for 41.1%. I don't think 58.9% of anything qualifies as a whole. In fact, I'm fairly certain 41% of the voters would disagree with your lumping them in with the 58.9%.
This seems to be a constant with the newspaper and its management. The same was said in the pages of the Dispatch about the new middle school. I think most Columbus voters would disagree that the bond was approved overwhelmingly by the voters. I think the bias in yours and the editorial board's opinions are more evident in politics when using words like "landslide" or "handily defeated". I'm not sure who considers a 60-40 win as a landslide but I've personally witnessed when a physician quotes such numbers about a person's chances of surviving surgery or a disease and I have never seen a patient think that was an overwhelming assurance. But maybe you and your board have.


Article Comment justin smith iii commented at 11/10/2011 2:04:00 AM:

ANYONE who voted for Leroi is a fool. Stay classy Lowndes County and enjoy four more years of a foolish man not doing anything for the fools who elected him.


Article Comment thom geiger commented at 11/10/2011 5:22:00 PM:

Birney, I checked the source code on the page that has your reply to my post and it looks as though it was viewable only by me. You must have picked up some coding tips, learned the ins and outs of the admin tools on the Dispatch web site (congratulations if it's so) or someone else did it for you. Regardless, I think you should have made your reply viewable by everyone, as my message was.
I know and well remember how you dislike extended give and takes, so I'll make this brief. In response to your reply, I disagree that it's mere semantics. I stand by the example (of a doctor and patient). You own and control a newspaper in a small town. It was once the only newspaper in town. A newspaper's stock in trade are words and pictures. Both should be chosen and published with care and with particular attention to accuracy and detail, with consideration of how the printing of both affects the public and the newspaper, esp. it's credibility and reputation.
Personally, I think you know the several opinions of the newspaper's credibility and reputation. I imagine you feel any negative opinions, the harsh ones in particular, are undeserved. I think you should refer back to my statements about businesses creating their own competition through their own actions. The same goes for varying opinions about credibility and reputation; including mine, yours and the newspaper's. Each of us has done something to create and foster even the negative opinions about us. I accept my responsibility. Do you accept yours?
The opinion piece was yours, not of a junior reporter. Next time, consider leaving out the word THE or adding the words A MAJORITY OF to the sentence. That would go a long way toward adding to the positive opinions of what you write and print.


Article Comment raider commented at 11/10/2011 9:36:00 PM:

This is just sad.

An 18 point spread in a two person race is a blowout. Geez, look at what Mr. Larsen himself said. Reagan beat Carter in a landslide. He won by 9 points. This was more than double that spread.

Second, the voters did say NO. In a democratic election, there is only yes and no. The voters said YES to Leroy and NO to Mr. Larsen. The people chose the man that they felt was their best choice between the two people that were running. The election is over now and the 41 percent that didn't vote for Leroy should bury the hatchet and and try to work with the majority to try and improve their district. They will have their chance to unseat Leroy in the next election. That is how it works or should work in our democracy.


Article Comment thom geiger commented at 11/10/2011 10:47:00 PM:

Raider, you and I have had this discussion before. I still disagree that, because some people in this country have abused women and children, that THE people of the US have done it. Or that, because SOME people are still alive who discriminated against people based on race under archaic laws of the past, that THE people of the US have done it. I disagree with the incessant characterizing of an entire group of people based on the actions or sins of some.
I have never claimed to own another human being, am a military veteran but am not the Hollywood stereotype of a drug addict, alcoholic or homicidal psychopath veteran. I've never met a veteran who fit that stereotype.
I object to being branded as being something I'm not because I share something in common with other people, such as my military service or my skin color or the fact that I vote in local elections.
Your assertion that THE VOTERS elected or re-elected anyone is as ignorant as my saying THE VOTERS are pedophiles, drunks, tweekers and spouse beaters. I would expect people to take offense at that claim, as I would expect people to take offense at the other.
It's VOTERS of district 5, or A MAJORITY of the voters in district 5, SOME of the people are this or that. I'll check your other posts but your message gives the impression you tend to brand everyone in a group according to the actions of some. Am I wrong?
BTW, I don't live in District 5. Many local voters don't. In fact, and it is a fact in case you want to check it, the majority of Lowndes County voters don't live in district 5. Only residents of ONE district could vote in the district 5 race, so only a small minority of Lowndes County voters cast ballots for either Mr. Larsen or Mr. Brooks and only a portion of that small minority of all county voters voted for Mr. Brooks. THE voters? Really? I don't think so.


Article Comment Birney commented at 11/10/2011 11:12:00 PM:

Birney Imes replies: Thom, you are spending a lot of energy (and space) on semantics. The meaning was obvious. I think our readers get it.


Article Comment justin smith iii commented at 11/11/2011 12:04:00 AM:

No, your readers expect better.


Article Comment kj commented at 11/11/2011 2:15:00 AM:

"Oh really. The voters eh? "

@Thom: did anyone other than "the voters" cast ballots? Dude, I'm as cynical as they come. But even I know that you don't have to be Fonzi to jump a shark.


Article Comment raider commented at 11/11/2011 8:42:00 AM:

@Thom - I don't know how you got to child abuse, spousal abuse, racism and Hollywood but they have nothing to do with this discussion. I believe this discussion was about democratic elections and the voice of the voters. We govern by the principles of representational government. One representative is elected to represent a group of people. Once elected, that person speaks for all the people of his/her district. The people may not like what their representative says or does, but that representative is the person allowed to legally represent them. The people that chose to vote for someone else does not get a representative to represent them 40% of the time. In this case, Leroy is the representative 100% of the time. Mr. Larsen does not get to represent his voters. That is the way it works.

Thom, I believe you have run for office before. I have no doubt, that you have used the same terms that other politicians have used and that you are now complaining about. After every election, each politician acknowledges the will of the voters with the term "the people have spoken" or "the VOTERS have spoken." They do not not say "his voters" or "my voters." It's an acknowledgement that the election is over and it's time to come together and support those that were elected. In others words, it's a group thang. Something that has worked well in america for most of our 250 years.

Leroy has won. The people of District 5 should now try to work together to improve their district. For those outside of distinct 5, it is now time to quit agitating and live with the decision that was made in your district. In other words...stay in your lane.


Article Comment hope commented at 11/13/2011 9:48:00 AM:

@thom:Here's proof that Leroy won by a landslide. I heard that he had to go the hospital to have the rocks removed from his rear.


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