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Heckuva mayoral race

Published 10:47am Saturday, January 28, 2012

At first glance, the electoral math looks tricky for Raystine Johnson, the Franklin city councilwoman and vice mayor who announced Thursday her intentions to run for mayor in May.

If historic voting patterns continue, Johnson would need a consolidated African-American vote and a handful of white votes to have any chance of upsetting veteran incumbent Mayor Jim Councill.

The mayoral candidacy of Greg McLemore, the combative Ward 3 city councilman, almost assures that the black vote will be split. Say what you will about McLemore — and plenty has been said about him on this page — but he is just two years removed from a landslide victory in majority-black Ward 3. There’s no reason to think his populist, champion-of-the-common-man message won’t again appeal to a few hundred voters, especially in impoverished neighborhoods.

A few hundred votes is all McLemore needs to be the spoiler of Johnson’s mayoral ambitions.

If I’m Jim Councill, however, I’m not taking anything for granted.

The wildcard factor is Johnson’s ability to draw significant white support, even with a longtime white incumbent in the race.

The vice mayor, a successful businesswoman and a steady influence on the City Council for the past decade, is precisely the kind of African-American candidate that middle-class and upper-class whites are comfortable casting their ballot for.

She is — in many ways other than skin color — the opposite of Councill, whose overreaching, micromanaging tendencies alienate council colleagues and some citizens.

Take, for example, the two candidates’ contrasting approaches to the city’s controversial flirtations with the Navy last winter on the use of Franklin Municipal Airport for pilot training.

Councill was “all in” from the beginning, singlehandedly pushing the project with a force never intended by the city’s founders 50 years ago when they devised a weak-mayor form of government — one in which the mayor presides at meetings, casts one vote and cuts a lot of ribbons.

Truth be known, Johnson was predisposed to agree with Councill early in the Navy discussions, but she never showed her cards. She listened carefully to the facts and to opinions on both sides. She ultimately concluded, like the majority of her council colleagues, that the project was ill-advised for Franklin.

Many voters have come to like Johnson for that kind of governing style. They see her as a moderating presence on a board that has become way too acrimonious in recent years.

All of that said, Johnson is far from the favorite in the race. Councill maintains solid support in many pockets, and his love of Franklin and passion to see her succeed are unquestionable. His mistakes are the product of zeal and strong convictions, not of anything sinister.

If I were a betting man, I’d put a little money on Councill at this stage, a full three months before the election.

Should be a dandy of a mayoral race.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.

  • handkusp45

    I agree for the most part with this editorial. I do however think Mayor Councill was largely misjudged on the Navy Landing thing. I was of the opinion that he was only trying to get more information before making the decision. I was against the landings, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have had all the facts. I believe that is what the Mayor was fighting for. Nonetheless, as Mr. Stewart stated no one can doubt Mr. Councill’s love for Franklin and his efforts to make it better. One place that I do disagree is Mr. Stewart’s belief that McLemore will get a lot of votes. I may be wrong, but I believe that even those who supported him initially have had enough of him. I believe they will support Ms. Johnson. She is after all a much better choice. I could live with Mr. Councill or Ms. Johnson. With McLemore as mayor the city would be the laughing stock of southeastern Virginia.

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  • Makalani

    “The wildcard factor is Johnson’s ability to draw significant white support, even with a longtime white incumbent in the race.”

    Even though Ms. Johnson is the kind of level-headed — clear-thinking — race-neutral politician that many white voters may embrace — there is probably still that nagging fear of having a Black majority on the council.

    Given Councilman McLemore’s ability to EQUALLY alienate both his white and Black colleagues — its unlikely that there would ever be a solid Black voting bloc on the Council. But that possibility would exist with Ms. Johnson as mayor and another Black taking her seat.

    The whole issue of Ms. Johnson needing “crossover white votes” to win would be moot if Blacks got off their duffs and voted. They have the numbers to swing the election with or without Mr. McLemore playing spoiler.

    I hope that I am wrong but if past history is any indicator — voter apathy will prevail as usual among the Black electorate — giving Mayor Council another term but with probably a closer vote margin.

    @chilimac72 — “When will there be a time when a person gets judged for his character, not his color, on both sides of the spectrum?”

    Never going to happen! It we all woke up tomorrow the same color — it would be eye color — length of fingernails — smell of one’s flatulence — which finger one uses to pick one’s nose — number of calluses in one’s hands instead of race! Character? What’s that go to do with anything? LOL

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  • chilimac72

    When can we as a community not be literally forced to vote on color not issues. It appears it does not matter what someone’s platform is, only their color. At first glance one might be tempted to say that the Editor himself is encouraging a color vote. Then you realize, “nope, he is just echoing this racist community”. When will there be a time when a person gets judged for his character, not his color, on both sides of the spectrum?

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  • employee2

    Raystine is a much better choice than McLemore. She sees things without the black&white filter installed.

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  • SayWhat

    I have not found Ms. Johnson’s story on the site either. There are plenty who would like to wish her well and offer their support. TN please post the story.

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  • Curiousreader

    And where in this on-line publication is the story announcing Ms. Johnson’s run for mayor? If I have missed it I hope someone will post the link here. Thank You.

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