April 18, 2018

About the Mayor and Commission Races

Sell you a candidate or sell you a used car.

Atlanta activist Rev. Hosea Williams used to call up Georgia Senator Wyche Fowler during elections and tell him, “Wyche, I can come out for you or against you—whichever will help you the most.”

I thought about Hosea and Wyche when I heard that Nancy Denson has endorsed Harry Sims for mayor. I wondered if it even fleetingly went through Harry’s mind to ask Nancy if she would mind not endorsing him. This whole election is about the pent-up political energy breaking out among those who have chafed for almost eight years under Denson’s smiling, business-as-usual leadership. Harry has been the centerpiece of support for Do-Nothing Denson, and this might be a good time to try to distance himself from her.

Of course, it’s too late for Harry to escape Nancy’s blessing; he is running to continue her legacy of keeping the lid on any real change other than whatever developers want to do. I realize that’s not fair to Harry, because he has a long list of concerns about how to make Athens better for everyone, and he knows how the government works. But there’s no escaping his long record on the commission of supporting Denson’s limited agenda.

Commissioner Kelly Girtz, on the other hand, has struggled during the Denson years to move the progressive needle forward while being respectful of the political realities. That’s a left-handed way of trying to say that Kelly is a moderate progressive who should be a consensus choice, because he has tried to remain open to all shades of political opinion in Athens. But that’s not the way things work. We could, in fact, have a repeat of the three-way race that first elected Nancy Denson, when hard feelings among the supporters of her two opponents prevented their coming together in the runoff. Richie Knight could prove this time around to be the spoiler who elects Harry.

The rest of the election has brought out a great surge of energy that is bound to invigorate local government no matter how it shakes out. The contested races are not without their ironies. Melissa Link in District 3 and Jared Bailey in 5 have tried to get things done in spite of Denson’s roadblocks, and now they face challenges from other progressives. Tony Eubanks is less in-your-face than Link, but more behind-your back. Tim Denson brings a lot more energy and activism to voting the same way Jared has been voting all along, and the third candidate, Danielle Benson, includes enough progressive points while still offering a candidacy more acceptable to  conservative voters. In District 7, what could have been a clear choice between longtime progressive activist Russell Edwards and newcomer moderate Carl Blount ismuddied by Bill Overend, who could draw votes from both and leave bruised feelings that keep Overend or Edwards voters home during a runoff.

The other races are more straightforward, even though hard to predict or even to choose. In District 1, Patrick Davenport is mounting a spirited challenge to incumbent Sharyn Dickerson; District 2 has the fired-up activist outsider Mariah Parker against the heir to the East Athens political tradition, Taylor Pass; and District 9 pits Tommy Valentine’s attractive, intelligent approach to government against Ovita Thornton, who has paid her dues in the political trenches and on the school board.

More, maybe, on other races later, but let this be an early warning to Flagpole readers who usually depend on this column to find last-minute guidance on how they might want to vote. Pete is so far not paying attention to the races like he has in the past. That’s unfortunate, of course, since this is the most interesting and energetic election we have had in a long time, probably since the government was unified. Maybe Pete can get it into gear in time to come up with his usual prognostications, but meanwhile, he couldn’t stay awake during the mayoral debate at the library.

Fortunately, Blake Aued and his stable of writers are keeping an eye on all the races and giving you a rundown on who the candidates are and where they stand on various issues. If you read Flagpole regularly, you should be able to step up to the voting machine with your mind made up in all the races that pertain to you, in all the districts and subdistricts designed for our enjoyment by our Republican friends, and vote so confidently and clearly that even the Russians will be able to decipher your vote.

If there is still a groundswell of voters clamoring for Pete’s Cheat Sheet, maybe he can prevail on our ace city editor to let him channel Blake’s Fake Take.