OUR PRINT DEADLINE is Monday evening, which means I write this not knowing the results of this week’s runoff elections.
Either way, however, we can say with 100 percent accuracy that the DeLoach era of Savannah governance is over, even if he somehow manages to prevail over Van Johnson in the runoff.
(Update: Johnson defeated DeLoach by a wide margin.)
The general election results assure this, as not a single one of DeLoach’s majority slate will be seated on the next Council regardless of the mayoral results.
The new Council, no matter who the new Mayor is, represents the polar opposite of the outgoing one, in many ways.
Politically they are diametrically opposed, representing a more aggressively progressive platform than we have seen, including the administration of former Mayor Otis Johnson.
In terms of identity and shared experience, they are also very different — a majority white male Council will be replaced by Savannah’s first-ever majority black female Council.
This development mirrors what is going on throughout the country, as a younger generation of progressives and people of color — especially women — are registered to vote in much greater numbers than ever before. Energized by opposition to Trump, certainly, but that’s only part of the story.
We have already seen this progressive sea change begin to happen on Chatham County Commission; expect to see more of it in next year’s County elections, and beyond.
One underreported story which will be intriguing to watch is the fact that this election also represents a major changing of the guard within the local African American community itself, as the older generation of black leadership, still closely identified with the pivotal battles of the Civil Rights Movement, gives way to a younger generation of black leadership more in tune with more recent battles.
A classic example is Savannah’s District 2. Five years ago it was represented by Mary Osborne, part of that older generation of black elected officials steeped in the movements and trends of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Osborne’s defeat in 2015 by Bill Durrence had even some of her supporters acknowledging that her time had passed.
Now, after Durrence’s single term, District 2 will now be represented by Detric Leggett, an African-American man in his forties with energy to match, who could be a player in local politics for the next two decades if he wants to.
Indeed, every one of the newly elected faces on Council — Alicia Blakely (top vote-getter in the entire election), Kesha Gibson-Carter, Linda Wilder-Bryan, Bernetta Lanier, Nick Palumbo — is quite young by Savannah political standards.
Should Kurtis Purtee, still in his thirties, prevail against Tony Thomas in the Sixth District runoff, that would be another fresh face.
(Update: Purtee defeated Thomas.)
To me, this is another major development of this election, every bit on par with policy and race and gender:
The face of Savannah politics is now much, much younger than in years past.
Van Johnson, who on this Monday before the election seems almost certain to win the Mayor’s seat, is about the same age as Barack Obama was when first elected.
Contrast this with the national presidential scene, where the current President and every leading challenger is in their 70s!
You can say that this is collectively Savannah’s “OK Boomer” moment.
(For the meme-challenged among you: Just Google it.)
Yes, the nation will probably end up with a geriatric president either way in 2020. But you won’t be able to level a similar criticism of Savannah’s political scene.
All that said, one lesson I’ve learned over the years is you can never really tell what someone will do in office or how they will act until they actually get there.
There are a couple of examples of outgoing City Council members who seemed to behave the exact opposite of the way they campaigned once they gained the seat.
The truth is there’s no predicting politics. Four years ago, the big issue was crime, which has barely popped up as a campaign issue in the meantime.
Despite the fact that the number-one thing the DeLoach slate campaigned on — reducing crime — saw great gains, including cutting the murder rate in better than half, that success appears to have had little to no impact on the election results this year.
Which is the subject of another column, another time.
We are entering uncharted new territory here, on a number of levels. This new type of youthful energy will be sorely tested — and greatly needed — to face the many challenges ahead.