Election Day can be a journalist’s dream or nightmare, depending on his/her feelings about politics. Depending on the candidates, the issues and the seats open for the taking, my excitement level on Election Day can be rather low. I don’t care for politics, but local elections tend to have more effect on me. For example, I live in the city of Ridgeland and have voted in almost every municipal election since 2010. I used to cover city government in Ridgeland for The Madison County Herald (2010-11) and it was important to know the alderman board members, who wanted to run for the positions and what they could bring to the city I live in. And if the races are tight from the start of campaigning to the finish, I’m eager to get out and vote and write election stories from the polls and the results.
This municipal primary election was especially exciting for me when it came to the city of Canton. I covered city government there as a reporter for The Herald (2010-11) and got to know the Mayor and Alderman Board pretty well throughout the volatile political dealings between the Mayor William Truly and board members. For months, I would hear stories from all kinds of people about a much needed change in city government and leadership and how much people looked forward to hitting the polls. So, I eagerly waited until 2013 came around because the buzz was circulating about prospective mayoral candidates wanting to replace Truly and some aldermen they felt were not getting the job done.
I had my mind made up on who would go to runoff after the Democratic primary and boy was I wrong! I knew there would be a runoff between Truly and State Farm Insurance Agent Arnel Bolden or Truly and small business owner and popular community activist Greg Green. I learned a little about Republican candidate Chip Matthews, owner of Mama Mia’s pizza on the square (he beat Lorraine Levy by a landslide in the May 7 primary). It turns out that Greg Green came in third place behind Bolden and Truly, and former mayor and Canton councilman Fred Esco Jr. came in last, much to my surprise.
The ballot count took nearly three days due to machine failure, hand counting and in my opinion, slow-working elections commissioners. Bolden held a 10-vote lead and only two aldermen held on to their seats — Ward 1 Alderman Rodriguez Brown (currently being challenged by opponent Ray Rosamond) and Ward 6 Eric Gilkey, who ran unopposed. Now Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest is looking into voting irregularities reported during the May 7 primary.
In the weeks leading up to runoff, Bolden and Truly hit the pavement to convince voters to return to the polls May 21 and I felt like either man had the chance. In his first term, Truly helped bring millions of dollars in economic development to the city, tried to improve living conditions (many citizens believe he has done opposite) and supported the Canton Public School District. He’s also a physician and served on the alderman board. I came to know Bolden when he started his campaign and would tell me about various events for his scholarship program, I Have A Dream Fund, and involvement in local nonprofit organizations and supporting the youth. Both men remained visible to voters through social media and local media stayed on the race.
When the primary runoff came, voter turnout was slightly lower (to be expected) but people made their way to their ward precincts to cast ballots. It was unbearably hot and humid. The results of the runoff were also a welcome surprise to many as Bolden won by a few hundred (machine) votes and Ward 5 Alderman Reuben Myers nearly lost his seat. Read the most recent results article here.
Once again, ballot counting dragged along on May 21 as the elections commission slowly went through the ballots — mind you, less than 3,000 people voted. In their defense, hundreds of absentee ballots and dozens of affidavit ballots can take a while to go through. The commission finished counting on Wednesday despite an altercation late Tuesday that led to a member being arrested for disturbing the peace and other charges.
Needless to say, Cantonians wanted change and they made their decision on Tuesday. What’s next for the June 4 general election? Arnel Bolden faces off with Chip Matthews and the alderman races for wards 2 and 7 will be decided. I, like most people, have questions going into the final stretch: Will Chip Matthews prevail and become the first white mayor of Canton in 19 years? Will Arnel Bolden deliver on his campaign promises? Will the next Board of Aldermen have a better working relationship to meet the needs of Cantonians? How much shifting will occur in city personnel, especially in the police and fire departments (considering the unpopular police and fire chiefs)? Will the entire elections commission be replaced? Will the people and leaders of Canton settle their differences and come together and create a better environment for businesses and youth who will be the future leaders?
Only time will tell.