Playing field smaller, stakes bigger in Selma election runoff

Playing field smaller, stakes bigger in Selma election runoff
Perkins (left) and Melton (right) are now headed to a run-off in October. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Perkins (left) and Melton (right) are now headed to a run-off in October. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

SELMA, AL (WSFA) - A new mayor is in the cards for Selma as two well-known figures in the community go head-to-head in a runoff, after coming in ahead of the incumbent.

Many say some surprises at the polls speak volumes about what residents want for their city's future.

Randy Williams does a local call-in radio talk show in Selma and on Wednesday, the phone lines were lit up, feedback on the outcome of Tuesday's municipal election poured in.

"Some were surprised, some were not," he said. "In the end, I think we all expected some sort of a shift in the electorate."

Residents voted for mayor, city council and school board members and 8 of the 14 races on the ballot are headed to a runoff on Oct. 4. Some current leaders were ousted and others are still fighting for their spots.

Current Mayor George Evans received credit and praise from citizens for the work he's done during his two terms as mayor.

"Mayor Evans did take Selma through a difficult period. In 2007-2008, we were caught in the grips of the great recession. And if he hadn't taken that 12 percent cut across the board for six months, I don't know if Selma would have operated properly with the budget," Williams said. "I think history will record him as being a transitional leader."

Evans was out of the office Wednesday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.

Now, the decision is between State Representative Darrio Melton and former mayor James Perkins Jr. Both men said they are ready to hit the ground running to continue campaigning, sharing their plans and visions for Selma.

Melton has been a state representative for District 67 for the last six years. He also worked on the federal level for six years before becoming a state legislator.

He says his experience on upper levels of government is unique to the Selma mayoral race and office.

While he's had success in Montgomery, Selma is where he was born and raised and he wants to bring the same momentum and accomplishments to his hometown.

"While we may be a small city, we are internationally known. Everybody in the world knows Selma. It's time to be the Selma that people talk about. We always talk about being the magnet, well let's be that magnet and have people come into our city and grow and thrive off of the history that we have here," Melton said.

Perkins, a local pastor and former mayor, is running again and says he has the skills, experience and vision Selma needs.  He served two terms as mayor from 2000-2008.

He feels he can help attract more business and industry to the area.

He has emphasized the importance of advancing technology and using it to increase job opportunities, lower crime and identify infrastructure issues.

"I want to offer to the community the experience, the capacity that I bring to this job, the relationships I have in Washington and Montgomery, my ability to work across the political aisles to get what we need in Selma," Perkins said.

The challenge will be getting voters to come back out to the polls for the runoff, but Randy Williams says it's clear that all of the races have resonated with the community.

"People wanted a change; wanted to do something different, not just in the mayor's race. You have to look at the number of runoffs and what's happening in the city council races and in the school board [races]; a number of changes," he said. "I think voters are ready for people in elected office to get things done. That's no reflection on the previous administration. I think people just want a fresh set of eyes."

"I think either one of them will make a good candidate for the mayor. I hope they bring new changes to Selma like more jobs for younger people," added a Selma resident.

The candidates have expressed concerns over issues with absentee ballots, stemming from redistricting.

"There are multiple people voting from vacant lots and empty houses, people changing addresses. There were 645 people removed from the voter list in Dallas County between May and this election. I don't understand what that purge process was," Perkins said. "A lot of people went to the polls expecting to vote in their traditional place and their names were not on the ballot. There were not allowed to vote provisional ballots. They were turned away and sent to other places. These are the kinds of things that training should resolve. But we're going to have to do a better job with it."

After the 2010 Census, the lines for the city were changed to reflect the city's population and which elected official would represent certain areas, resulting in absentee ballots being sent to the wrong places.

The Alabama Secretary Of State's Office released a statement saying: "The Secretary of State's Office is directing voters that believe they may have received the incorrect ballot to call the city clerk's office. The city clerk's office will then ensure the voter receives the corrected ballot once the ballot in error has been invalidated."

There were reports of similar issues in the 2012 election, but the city never fixed the problem between that year's election and the upcoming one.

Selma officials acknowledge receiving complaints from voters and tell us the city clerk and Registrar's Office are working to have things taken care by the Oct. 4 runoff.

The chairman of the Dallas County Registrar's Office was not in the office on Wednesday.

Darrio Melton received the most votes Tuesday with 2,448, or 36 percent, Perkins received 2,085, or 30 percent, and Evans received 1,274, or 19 percent. The other candidates, Gregory Bjelke and Jerria Martin received 713 and 358 votes respectively.

For City Council Ward 3, Miah Tolbert-Jackson will face Regina Woods in the runoff.

For City Council Ward 4, Angela Benjamin and Joyce Whitely will be on the ballot.

For City Council Ward 6, Johnnie Leashore will be running against Lydia Pettway.

For City Council Ward 7, voters will choose between Jesse Shannon Jr. and Jannie Thomas.

Incumbent Corey Bowie will be in the runoff with Lydia Chatmon in the race for city council president. Bowie had 46.5 percent of the vote Tuesday and Chatmon had 36.5 percent. Tremayne Gorden came in third with 17 percent.

As for school board president, Johnny Moss III beat incumbent Henry Hicks Sr. in the municipal election. Moss had 54 percent of the vote while Hicks had 46 percent.

Two of the four school board seats will be in the runoff.

For District 1, Danielle Wooten will face Kirit Chapatwala.

And in District 3, Lola Sewell will be up against Phyllis Houser.

Selma's election results will be canvassed next Tuesday.

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