My column is a little bit late this time because I wanted the dust to settle on the local mayoral election. It's still settling as of this writing.
Most of the time, I am given to putting my two cents in on regional, national and world events. Many of you have come up to me on the street to say "hey," or to slip me a "thumbs up" note about my contributions to "The News" as well. Thanks. For the most part, I try to stay away from home-grown grumbling's.
Seldom do I dabble in local fare. My grandma always told me, "Never use local apples when you're cooking up an apple pie for the town fair. Never know who owns the other orchard."
Sorry, Grandma - this one needs some coring.
This quandary of mine all started exactly four years ago during Mayor Davis's fifth and final election to that post. I can remember that election return night as if it were yesterday.
A bunch of us, mostly Mayor Davis's supporters and well-wishers, settled into a dark corner of a local tavern owned by some good local folks - the Jukebox. No pretence about the Jukebox - it is what it is and what it is seemed to fit that night - one pure note - "victory."
None of us sitting around doubted that Mayor Davis would win his last declared pass at the office. Why? Because Mayor Davis sat there looking at the song list on "Karaoke Night" for the right "victory song!" He didn't seem to have a worry in the world. Everyone at that Jukebox table had no doubts about it either - myself included. This was the Mayor's night.
But a funny thing happened. As the night progressed, more and more people around the table got up and left. Just left. At the time, I wasn't sure why for the reason of their departure. Perhaps they were as certain as the Mayor was as to the outcome of the race. He was running against a longtime time adversary in City Councilman and mayor pro-tem, Harold Fowler. I could tell in Mayor Davis's eyes that he had it won before the final tally.
Still. People left.
So, between stand-up performances at the karaoke mike, (the Mayor was actually pretty good with the right song), virtually everyone at our table left before the final election results came in.
When I came out of the men's room to sit back down at the table, I was surprised to see that the only one there was the Mayor himself - alone - listening to the returns his cohorts were barking back to him on his cell phone.
"Any news?" I asked.
With no one else around - the moment he found out - Mayor Richard Davis, of some nearly fifteen years in office, turned to me and said, "We won."
I truly felt happy for the man. I was even happy to hear his next song at the karaoke mike - definitely a country and western victory piece.
There are small and large victories in life. At that moment, I felt that this was no small victory for the Mayor. I felt humbled to share his moment. Still, I sort of envisioned it all going down another way.
"What was the final tally?" I asked.
"526," he said.
I'm thinking plurality. "You won by 526?" I said. "That's pretty close. Congratulations," I shot back.
"No. I got 526," he said and then ran up for an encore request at the mike.
I sat there alone - stunned. 526? I though this was Richmond Hill - a CITY?! Mayor Davis "won" with 526 votes? My last line at Disney World was bigger than that.
No doubt, my hearing was going. When he sat back down, I congratulated him again and found out that the final tally was indeed 526 him against Harold Fowler's 427. The plurality was in fact, 99 .
You could have heard my chin hit and rattle the rocks in my Jack on the rocks.
I did some quick calculations and came away with a sobering thought. Most of the folks who were eligible to vote in Richmond Hill - didn't. I was at a loss. Why? Was the win such a forgone conclusion? It couldn't have been a no-brainer, because Mayor Davis only won his fifth term in office by some "99" votes.
I let it all go until this last election - four years later.
As you all know, this past Tuesday (Nov. 3) was the first race for mayor in nearly twenty years where the two contestants would be new to the office - new to the office, but not new to the inner workings of the City itself.I had no horse in this race. However, I had become friendly (by association) with Floyd Hilliard and thought this City would have done well under his tutelage. My mind has not changed on that premise.
However, I also had a friendly conversation with his opponent, Mayor-elect Harold Fowler, at a recent Republican fund raising dinner. I remember discussing "trees" with him. I like trees - he liked trees. It occurred to me that that was on Mr. Fowler's original platform as well - even against Mayor Davis - who incidentally, I know for a fact, does not dislike trees either.
Up comes this last election of Tuesday.
I didn't have the privilege of sitting with either candidate on return night as I had with Mayor Davis, but the results were almost identical - "i-den-ti-cal."
Only this time, Harold Fowler came out on top with Floyd Hilliard drafting the lead car to the finish line by just a wisp.
Let me throw some research facts and numbers at you:
25.94 percent of the people in Richmond Hill, GA are registered as Democrats. 73.76 percent are registered as Republican. The remaining are independent: 0.30 percent. (Bottom line, it seems that virtually no one on the Hill votes for local elections regardless of their political leanings.)
According to The Bryan County Board of Registrars, there are 5,965 eligible voters in the City of Richmond Hill.
July 2008 general population count: 10,571.
Actually voted in last week's mayoral election: 1,002!
The results of last week's mayoral election: Harold Fowler defeated Floyd Hilliard for mayor with 580 versus 422 votes.
Harold Fowler gave up his council seat in 2005 to run for mayor and lost to Richard Davis. Floyd Hilliard did the same thing this time losing to Fowler.
Which means? A paltry 16 percent of the eligible voters actually voted for mayor last Tuesday! Sixteen percent! Which also means "84 percent" of the voters who could have voted for either Mr. Hilliard or Mr. Fowler - DID NOT VOTE AT ALL!
Wow. I knew there was something wrong that night four years ago when Mayor Davis pulled down almost the exact same numbers. The question begs: Why?
Both mayors over the last two elections, Davis and Fowler, won with less than 10% of those of you living in Richmond Hill who actually were eligible to vote. Ouch. In my opinion, it is not necessarily a disservice to the candidates themselves, but it certainly is a disservice to the future of this town.
New and free elections in democratically starved third world nations often pull 85% - 95% turnout. Not so here in Richmond Hill, gang.
16 percent of you turned out. That's pretty sad. The office of mayor really deserves a better endorsement than that, especially when you consider that the winning tally over the last two elections averaged only 550 votes which is less than 10 percent of the 5,965 eligible votes. What would the results have been if say, 20 percent, 40 percent or even 60 percent of the City had turned out? No one will ever know.
Quoting the Bryan County News with post election statements from both mayoral candidates:
"I really appreciate the people's vote of confidence in me, and I look forward to serving the next four years," Fowler said. "As soon as I get sworn in, I will begin work on items in my platform."
"We tried our best," Hilliard said. "I ran a clean race, and I ran on facts. But the people spoke and I respect 100 percent what the people want. Harold has my full support and I fully respect him as my new mayor."
Each man was commenting on just 500 people out of 6,000 potential voters. "The people?"
I don't get it. Sure, I guess you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him cast a ballot.
One word of advice for the new mayor elect - Mayor Fowler, when you bake that apple pie from scratch and present it to "the people" of Richmond Hill, it probably won't make any difference whether or not you use local apples.
Columnist-at-Large Victor Pisano is a resident of Ford Plantation.