November 9, 2011 11:47:00 AM
Birney Imes - [email protected]
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.