The people have spoken, and the Macon County Clerk's office was sharp enough to tally up what they said by 10 p.m. This election was quieter than the 2009 race for Decatur City Council and the mayor, but it wasn't without its surprises and upsets.
A name from what once was Nameless
I've wailed and gnashed my teeth about the Nameless Primary for months now, bemoaning the fact it gave us a $100,000 election that will likely go down as the most ridiculous situation in local politics for years to come, and that it also gave us Reginald Anderson, who has a felony conviction and who on election night managed to capture 371 votes, two more than Robert Lewis, an actual candidate who would have actually been able to be seated if he won.
But the time for wailing, gnashing and felonies is over, because now that the dust has settled, the people have picked a clear winner in Pat McDaniel, after giving him an overwhelming show of support in the primary as well.
McDaniel captured 58 percent of the vote in the primary and 52 percent in the general election, winning election to a two-year term on the council after unsuccessful runs in 2005 and 2009.
McDaniel also proved the night's major upset since his victory means Councilman Jamie Duies, an appointee picked by the mayor and approved by the sitting council, will leave at the end of the month. The Macon County Clerk said no appointee has failed to win election in recent memory.
Turnout was so poor (14.4 percent) that it's difficult to tell if this was more a rejection of Duies or a major show of support for McDaniel. If it's a rejection of Duies, I don't think it's because of the man himself, since he's served respectfully and competently for the short time he's been on the council. Rather, it was likely a rejection of the manner in which he came on the council.
Matthew Jackson, a candidate for a different seat on the council, urged Mayor Mike McElroy and the council to select an appointee who wasn't also running for the spot, and just days later they selected Duies, who then announced he would run. Duies took 36 percent of the vote in the general election.
Throughout the Nameless Primary, most officials I spoke with were exasperated at the waste and silliness of it all: Six candidates, all write-ins, several of whom didn't appear to care about getting elected, and one who couldn't serve even if he won. At the same time, and often in the same breath, they said they trusted in the process.
That trust appears not to have been misplaced. Whatever else may have happened, the final result is that Decatur voters came out to the polls and countermanded the mayor's appointment, putting in their own choice for that council seat. That they could do so seems to validate that faith.
McDaniel has always been somewhat of an outsider, but I don't think anybody can doubt that he's familiar with the council's dealings. He's reported on the council for a number of years for the Decatur Tribune, where he works for former Mayor Paul Osborne, who was also the mayor while McDaniel was reporting, for a time.
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He's always frankly addressed concerns about the potential conflict of interest there, and Tuesday night said he'd step down from his position as the Tribune's reporter once he's on the council.
McDaniel has never been part of anybody's slate of candidates, and his campaigns have always been modestly financed and largely self-run. When he ran in 2009 he did so on his own, without the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce support the winners all accepted, and without allying himself with the opposition candidates put forth by ChangeDecatur (for which they unsuccessfully tried to get him kicked off the ballot, citing the way he numbered pages on his nominating papers).
His message from the get-go has been to provide some dissent and further discussion on issues, and it's possible his victory signals a desire from voters to see more of that sort of thing. The council has been moving efficiently the past couple of years, but sometimes with less discussion than perhaps is warranted.
Another point that may be important is McDaniel's close ties with the Coalition of Neighborhood Organizations. McDaniel, a former president of CONO, could be a bridge between that organization and the council. Recently there's been some tension between the two groups, and if McDaniel's election eases that tension, it's probably better for all involved.
As for me, it'll be weird watching McDaniel from the other side of the podium after sitting next to him at every meeting lo these many years.
Close, but no council seat
The incumbents in the 4-year council races all won re-election, unsurprisingly. Even their opponents were complimentary during the election season, and unlike in 2009 there was no slate of opposition candidates. Pat Laegeler, Dana Ray, and Larry Foster will each serve another four years on the council.
Considering the council has kept the budget balanced and averted tax increases the past two years, it wasn't a shock voters weren't stirred to replace them.
The standout in the 4-year race, however, was lawyer Andrew Weatherford, a 29 year old who lost, but captured 16 percent of the vote for a clear lock on 4th place. It's not much of a consolation prize, but it does show Weatherford had significant support. Speaking after the results were almost finished, he told me he'll be carefully considering a run in the future. Under different conditions, he may well have won.
With 14.5 percent voter turnout countywide and 14.4 percent in the city races, it's pretty clear not a lot of people cared about this year's election. There could be any number of factors contributing to this: Fatigue after a grating November 2010 election that seems like it happened just last week, candidates who spent little money on advertising.
It's unfortunate that local races continue to have such consistently poor turnout. For all the interest everybody shows when a Rod Blagojevich or a Barack Obama runs at the state or national level, those candidates probably have the least effect on people's local affairs. When 7 out of 8 people don't bother casting a ballot locally, they shouldn't be complaining about downtown parking, recycling, or whatever decisions the school board is making.