IN THE END, Savannah got the change it needed and wanted, at great cost.
A new Mayor and Council majority will lead the city when they are sworn in this January, but only after an extremely polarizing election.
Facebook existed during other Savannah elections, but this was the first one where almost all the drama played out literally from beginning to end on social media. And like many things on social media, it seemed to bring out the worst in everything and everyone.
Looking back, it is apparent that the vast bulk of the hard feelings and ugliness generated during this election was vectored through Facebook, with its unique ability to separate people from their common sense—and often, virtually any sense of human restraint.
This election taught us all a valuable lesson on the importance of essential human empathy, something that is in exceedingly short supply today—especially on social media.
The election season literally began on Facebook when the very first mayoral challenger, Murray Silver, announced his candidacy on Facebook and conducted the bulk of his campaign there.
The mythical pseudo-candidacy of O.C. Welch was purely a Facebook figment, existing nowhere else.
The controversial “RIP Edna Jackson” high school video was posted and shared online, the first clear harbinger of the racial divisiveness which would come to dominate the election.
Our own now-infamous, unfortunate Norman Rockwell cover, which also became an election issue, went viral on Facebook far beyond our own print circulation.
The also-infamous “Enemies” ad from the Jackson campaign, which some say was a response to our cover, also inflamed passions when it was shared virally far beyond the relatively small circulation of the Savannah Tribune in which it appeared.
Even the literal final moment of the election played out on social media, with a short iPhone video of Mayor Jackson at her campaign HQ calling Eddie DeLoach to concede her loss.
Internet stars were made. Losing to Estella Shabazz by only about 100 votes, Shaundra McKeithen parlayed her brutally honest Facebook posts into something of a cottage industry. In what is probably a first for them, the Savannah Morning News published a post virtually verbatim as an op-ed column.
McKeithen was also the target of shamefully scurrilous attacks on Facebook from City Council candidate Alicia Blakely and her supporters.
One post pictured McKeithen side-by-side with a photo of an orangutan, and accompanying abusive language.
The Chatham County Democratic Party, which went all-in endorsing Blakely in the runoff despite the victorious Brian Foster seeming to run on Mayor Jackson’s unofficial slate, might now be thankful they won’t have to defend Blakely’s statements for the next four years.
(I was going to say they dodged a bullet, but that is becoming an increasingly disturbing analogy.)
John McMasters, in a previous life a Chatham County Commissioner, became a Facebook celebrity to a whole new generation for his detailed, impassioned wrapups of the many debates and forums he personally attended. A lot of us will really miss those!
Several high-profile, high-controversy Facebook pages either were started or came to prominence this election season, aided in their often-outrageous efforts by the anonymity of their proprietors—a luxury that Connect Savannah and the Savannah Morning News and the Savannah Tribune aren’t afforded.
Many of these pages featured racially divisive language—and sometimes just straight-up racist language—which made all the candidate’s jobs that much harder.
In nine out of ten cases, a simple act of basic empathy—“How would I feel if someone said or shared this about me to thousands of people on social media?”—would have made this election so much less bitter, so much more substantive.
None of us were immune, with some of us being less immune than others. Passions boiled, and often boiled over. Many of us, yours truly included, were shown hard lessons about the difficulty of unringing a bell once it is rung.
Whether we actually learn from those lessons will be up to the individual. But a new slate and a new year are great times to start.
One silver lining of this election is that it wasn’t particularly close, with no razor’s edge vote counts to contest, and no feelings that someone was robbed of a victory that was rightfully theirs.
The voice of the people, while raucous, was at least clear this time around. And that voice called for change.
It is probably not a coincidence that the two most calm and sedate people in the whole election season were mayoral candidates Edna Jackson and Eddie DeLoach themselves.
Despite whatever shenanigans people around them might have been involved with, those two remained personally above the fray for the most part.
Moving forward, the essential grace and calm demeanor of the two main combatants might be the most positive thing for the City to come out of this bitter, grueling election season.