Diverse opinions on upcoming election expressed in today’s Savannah Morning News – a few reactions

The Savannah Morning News editorial page has a number of items of interest as we approach the Tuesday, Dec. 1, runoff for three city positions — mayor, alderman at-large post 2, and 2nd district alderman.

A few thoughts:

Letter to the editor from Kevin Clark, Mark Krueger, and Bobby Jeffery:

Clark, Krueger, and Jeffery have long histories and great credibility as advocates of LGBTQ rights in Savannah. Their jointly signed letter rightly praises incumbent mayor Edna Jackson for her long advocacy for gay causes and then says this about challenger Eddie DeLoach:

Eddie DeLoach is a deacon of the Independent Presbyterian Church. This church has a long history of discriminating against the LGBT community here in Savannah. It’s gone so far as to advocate for an anti-gay ordinance with the Chatham County Commission. DeLoach also failed to return a Georgia Equality survey.

A cheap shot to bring up DeLoach’s religious affiliation, or to bring up that church’s stance on gay issues? I guess you could consider it a cheap shot if all religious organizations are off the table for debate. Yes, DeLoach ran for Chairman of the Chatham County Commission in the last cycle as a Republican, and he is a member of conservative church. He is not a logical political choice for a broad swath of Savannahians, including my neighbors out here in Thomas Square who increasingly skew very liberal, young, and white.

On the other hand, I’ve known some longtime Democrats with strong civil rights records that attended IPC, just as we all know people who disagree with much of what their pastors say. And the issues in this election don’t clearly fall under liberal or conservative policies.

Also, DeLoach recently sent this letter to Georgia Equality and Savannah’s gay community:

Letter to Georgia Equality from mayoral candidate Eddie DeLoach.

Posted by GaySavannah.com on Friday, November 13, 2015

Otis Johnson’s guest op-ed “Mayor Edna Jackson should have a second term”:

I agree strongly with several things that former mayor Johnson has to say here — and disagree just as strongly with other parts of it.

Johnson makes several worthwhile observations about the limited power of the mayor in our system of government, and he adds the following:

The fact is, we have two Savannahs, one doing very well and the other locked into inter-generational poverty. This cannot be objectively disputed. The challenge for anybody who is mayor is, and will continue to be, to provide leadership to end this economic divide.

There is a group calling for change in Savannah. My question for this group is: “What kind of change do you want?” If they understand the limits of the mayor and if they understand that Savannah is respected as a great city across this nation and around the world, how would they change it?[…]

The change that I detect as the goal of this group of people is to change the face of the person who is the representative of this great city of Savannah. There are some among us who are talking about “taking our city back.” Where did it go and who took it away?

This is just code speak for saying that the great city of Savannah needs a white face rather than a black face to represent it. Whether this group accepts the fact of not, Savannah is a majority African America city.

I have a number of thoughts on this:

  • Yes, we do have those two Savannahs, but the current administration of Mayor Jackson and City Manager Stephanie Cutter seems to be making zero headway in tackling intergenerational poverty. Building large new affordable housing complexes on land that’s basically invisible to the rest of the city — that’s the plan for the $3 million fairgrounds property — is not the way to get anything done.
  • I agree completely with Johnson (hey, can we quit calling all these politicians by their first names?) that much of the opposition to Jackson has revealed itself to be flat out racist. And when not overtly racist, that opposition is just mean spirited, crass, and — far too often — anonymous, like the We Savannah Facebook page.
  • Regrettably, both as mayor and now in an editorial like this, Johnson comes a little too close to suggesting that black voters will always put a black candidate in the mayor’s chair, as if local politics should always just boil down to demographic strength. That might be the past, but it’s not the future.
  • Also, Johnson and others, including many Jackson detractors, need to realize that many of us think that the Jackson-Cutter administration is simply failing on policy. I’ll list some issues below.

Give Johnson’s op-ed a read. It’s worth a look.

The Savannah Morning News editorial page endorsements:
The SMN editorial team repeats today its previous endorsements of DeLoach, Brian Foster in the at-large race, and Bill Durrence for the 2nd district seat. Let me comment on those races in reverse order.

Bill Durrence vs. Mary Osborne:
As someone who has lived in Thomas Square since 1996 but who was just redistricted into the 2nd, I find this an easy vote. Bill Durrence and Detric Leggett were both exceptional candidates in the general election, and many of us were hoping that the runoff would be between the two of them. But Durrence took 44 percent, Osborne 29 percent, and Leggett 23 percent. Leggett has endorsed Durrence, and Durrence essentially needs a strong turnout of his November supporters to guarantee a victory. Durrence has laid out a coherent vision on his excellent website, while Osborne — as far as I can tell — hasn’t even bothered to create a Facebook page or website stating her beliefs or plans. In the final days of the campaign, it appears the entire Osborne strategy is to blanket the East Side (where her newest constituents don’t live) with flyers denouncing Durrence as a “Downtown Candidate”.

Alicia Blakely vs. Bill Brian Foster:
Bill Brian Foster’s well-funded — a little too well-funded — campaign has attracted the support of a broad swath of established organizations and area leaders. I like much of what Foster has had to say, but I’m still steamed about the flyer endorsing all incumbents that was paid for jointly by the Foster and Jackson campaigns. I’m impressed by Blakely, but I’ve been disappointed that she hasn’t done more to reach out to diverse voters (like the white liberals in my neighborhood) over the past month — it’s a missed chance on her part. She wasn’t able to attend a debate held downtown (I was planning to go just to hear what she had to say) and hasn’t posted on her campaign Facebook page since mid-October. In a recent flyer, Blakely has also chosen to focus on her position in the non-partisan race as a Democrat facing off against a Republican and has particularly emphasized Foster’s membership in the Oglethorpe Club (which has been brought up by others before her). Foster dismisses those concerns about the Oglethorpe Club and its all-white membership, but his defense of the club will hurt him on election day and will hurt him when he tries to get things done as alderman. I suspect Foster will end up winning this race rather handily — maybe with 55 percent of the vote — but his reputation has definitely been damaged through the campaign process. He will have some things to prove, which might not be a bad thing.

Eddie DeLoach vs. Edna Jackson:
A couple of my close friends are key Jackson supporters. I got to know Eddie DeLoach a little bit back in the 1990s when I taught his son Adam and worked with his wife Cynthia at Savannah Country Day School. Small town.

Here are my policy/decision differences with the Jackson-Cutter administration, in no particular order:

  • A pattern of inaction that has left the police merger near death
  • Allowing the police department to become so poorly staffed
  • Taking so long to institute raises for police officers
  • Demolition of Meldrim Row
  • One bad decision after another on Waters Avenue
  • The mess of the Cultural Arts Center — we are about to spend over $20 million on a new facility that won’t even have a true theater
  • Demolition of a historic pharmacy on MLK
  • A stunning lack of vision about the future possibilities for the current arena site
  • The nonexistent food truck ordinance
  • The major missteps in the alcohol ordinance rewrite, which has been going on for almost 3 years
  • Failure to move forward with a zoning overhaul
  • Failure to address our unworkable sound ordinance
  • Lack of vision for poverty reduction
  • Inability to address (or even understand, as far as I can tell) problems of gentrification
  • The failure to sell or utilize a key block of Hall Street
  • Lack of movement on issues related to pedestrianism/biking/traffic calming

The problems just keep piling up.

By the way, in my City Talk column today I discuss the commonsense way to get more Savannahians to vote: hold our elections in even years with national elections. The current calendar guarantees low turnout, which heightens the role of special interests. When a candidate can win a citywide election with barely more than 10 percent support from adults in the city, we have a problem.