There were only a few surprises in today’s elections in Savannah.
As I had been expecting for weeks, the mayoral race will come down to a runoff between Edna Jackson and Jeff Felser.
First, a few words about the also-rans.
I had thought that James Dewberry’s entertaining presence and occasionally pithy comments at the debates would earn him more votes than he got. He came in with less than 1% of the total. Former Mayor Floyd Adams simply does not have widespread or enthusiastic support — he did poorly when he ran against incumbent Otis Johnson in 2007 and his 11% of the vote tonight had to be disappointing. If Ellis Cook had been able to marshal the votes of the bulk of the Republicans in this Democratic-dominated city, he might have gotten enough votes to make the runoff, but I suspect that many voters did not see him as electable. Regina Thomas’ general candor — and especially her bluntness about recent failures in City Hall — pulled her into third, but a distant third.
Here’s the breakdown of the 21,749 votes, which was slightly fewer than the total number of votes in the hotly contested races of 2003. I.e., wow, what a pathetic turnout.
Edna Jackson and Jeff Felser are both sitting aldermen-at-large, and have won their current seats by wide margins. Both have gotten strong support from both whites and blacks. In a black majority city and with her 13 point edge today, Jackson is the clear favorite in the runoff a month from now.
But this race is not over. The two white candidates (Felser and Cook) attracted only 36% of the total vote, while probably about 45% of the voters were white. A considerable number of white voters opted for Jackson, and those voters aren’t going to go anywhere else, but some also voted for Thomas and Adams. Where will those voters go in a runoff, assuming they turn out? A majority will go with Felser. And where will Cook’s supporters go? Again, a clear majority for Felser. Will that be enough to get Felser within striking distance?
I don’t know. If Felser is going to make a race of it, he’ll have to drive an enthusiastic turnout for the runoff from specific groups — whites, Jews, gays, and young voters. He’ll also have to pick up some portion of the black vote to offset the white support that Jackson has secured.