QUALIFYING HAS CLOSED and we now know exactly who’s running for what positions in the upcoming City of Savannah elections this November.
Let’s cut to the chase and go right to my breakdown of these very interesting races:
Mayor: Incumbent Eddie DeLoach defends the seat against Van Johnson, Regina Thomas, and Louis Wilson.
While establishment support will still be there for DeLoach, the newest crime stats couldn’t come at a worse time for him. There’s been a spike in violent crime in the wake of the de-merger of City and County police, even as homicides are significantly lower than when he was elected.
And in a possible preview of things to come, two of his close political allies — Aldermen Julian Miller and Brian Foster — aren’t running for reelection, and his other allies all face tough opposition.
Van Johnson has been prepping a mayoral run for years and has spent much of DeLoach’s first term contrasting himself with the Mayor. He vacates his longtime District 1 seat for this campaign.
Johnson is endorsed by former mayors Edna Jackson and Otis Johnson (no relation), and has not been shy about portraying this election as a do-over of 2015, when Jackson lost her bid for reelection in an uproar over the murder rate.
Regina Thomas has her own strong baseline of support from her years in the Georgia legislature and in the community. She’s a logical and pragmatic choice for those who simply don’t want to vote for any current incumbent.
Louis Wilson has run before, in 2015. While not a strong threat, he brings interesting observations to the table.
If the new Arena is your number-one issue, keep in mind that both DeLoach and Johnson are strong supporters of it, so you won’t get any real change there.
District 1 Alderman: With Johnson running for mayor this is an open seat, with Bernetta Lanier the clear front-runner against Peter Pannizzo. Some observers say Johnson’s hand was forced this year due to another threatened run from Lanier, who challenged him in 2015.
Lanier, like Johnson, is a strong supporter of the new Arena project, perhaps even more so. Don’t expect a big change there either.
District 2 Alderman: A fascinating and poignant race, as incumbent Bill Durrence defends this seat against Detric Leggett, one of the candidates for the seat when it was open in 2015.
In an inspiring show of positive solidarity crossing many cultural divides, the two men joined forces immediately after that election, with Leggett bearing no grudge and posing for photos with Durrence to show his support for the victor.
However, since then it’s safe to say that Leggett became disillusioned with what he and others saw as Durrence’s prioritization of big-money downtown and on the Bull Street corridor — while the long-suffering Waters Avenue corridor remained the bridesmaid who’s never the bride.
District 3 Alderman: Incumbent John Hall, while not usually considered one of the core DeLoach slate votes, is generally a voice for the status quo — perhaps not surprising given that his wife Connie Hall is also in public office, on the Savannah-Chatham School Board.
Hall faces passionate, energetic opposition in Linda Wilder-Bryan, a local activist who has spent a lot of time with boots on the ground in the areas of fighting crime and wealth disparity in Savannah.
This is a race to watch, as Hall has never been an overwhelming vote-getter.
District 4 Alderman: At first glance this seems more boring than it actually is. Civic activist Nick Palumbo will be the next District 4 Alderman, since he’s the only person running and incumbent Julian Miller isn’t seeking reelection.
However, Eddie DeLoach’s main base of support in his upset win in 2015 came directly from just a few District 4 precincts that had seismically huge turnout, in part because there was also a fiercely contested, high-profile race for alderman that year between Mary Ellen Sprague and Julian Miller.
You have to wonder if the fact that there is no competitive race in DeLoach’s home district will depress interest and turnout where he needs it most, and paradoxically keep him from a second term.
District 5 Alderman: Dr. Estella Shabazz is the lone unchallenged incumbent and will retain the seat.
District 6 Alderman: The cold, hard truth is that however unpopular incumbent Tony Thomas is pretty much everywhere outside the Sixth, he has a large core of support inside this Southside district.
Many of the loudest voices against Thomas on various local Facebook pages not only don’t live in his district, but many seemingly don’t even live in Savannah.
All that matters is who votes in the Sixth, and if one strong challenger can consolidate the anti-Thomas vote. This year Thomas does face a strong challenger in law enforcement veteran Kurtis Purtee, along with Antonio Hunter.
Alderman At Large, Post One: Arguably the most significant race on the ballot both in substance and symbolism, as incumbent Carol Bell faces a strong challenger in Kesha Gibson-Carter.
Bell has a large following, but it’s possible that her close alliance with Mayor DeLoach has hurt her. That’s certainly the message from Gibson-Carter, a former director of the local Rape Crisis Center who is running on a reform platform.
A Gibson-Carter win would not only mark a stinging defeat for the local establishment, but also embody a generational shift in political power within the local African American community.
Alderman At Large, Post Two: Open seat with the retirement of Brian Foster. Alicia Blakely is part of a loose alliance of younger, more progressive African American challengers, along with Leggett, Gibson-Carter and Wilder-Bryan.
She runs against Tony Center, a former Chatham County Commissioner and scion of a famous name in Savannah politics.
Given the clear contrast between the two, I see this matchup as a bellweather of sorts about which direction the greater political winds will blow this November, and beyond.