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Chip Drago
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All politics is local, and it
doesn't get any more local
than small town elections
 
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Elections are around the corner in most all municipalities in Mobile and Baldwin counties, with some of them hotter than the 3 p.m. temperatures, others cooler than the other side of Barack Obama's pillow and a few somewhere in-between.

Mobile Bay Times took a whirl at sizing up the various elections with the help of its assorted sources.

We'll start with a look at the Eastern Shore where elections are set for Aug. 26 with runoffs on Oct. 7.

The contestants are:

DAPHNE
Mayor:

City Council:

FAIRHOPE
Mayor:

City Council:

SPANISH FORT
Mayor:

City Council:

Looking to the north, Daphne gets sized up by a couple of businessmen with interests there.

"I am only really following Daphne. The amazing fact is that now that some of these offices pay reasonable money for what is expected, that nobody new is really interested. Not that all is well, it just seems people don't want to get involved because of the many ways people can "cheap shot" you these days. For Mayor, I am supporting the incumbent Fred Small. A good man with character. Not a safe politician. Learned a lot during first term. But the main reason to re-elect is what I heard a state senator say about Montgomery --  "It is not what you can do, as much as it is about stopping all the nuts that want to change EVERYTHING."

The City council District 2 race will be interesting. Cathy Barnette is the incumbent. Intelligent, hardworking, disagreeable. She does not play well with others. Seems like agendas come into play. Anybody that deals with the City to get something done, she'll put through the ringer. Her constituents are crazies and treehuggers that like her independent crusades against all the other Council members. Sort of like ancient Rome, civil discourse in public but watch out for knives when you turn your back. Her opponent is a total newcomer to politics. Not a heavyweight but a hard worker and approachable. The rest of the council would probably not mind a change.

Eastern Shore entrepreneur number two steps up to the plate:

"Things are relatively quiet in Daphne. Three candidates for mayor -- Fred Small, incumbent, Harry Brown, former mayor, and Ernie Berger, President of Santa Clause of America.

Ernie is the dark horse, and probably the one to follow most closely as he appears to be smarter and has more management experience than the other two. He has a sign in the Guarisco's yard. That's a telling sign for the Italians, except Fred (if my memory is correct) had bumped Harry out in the Italian arena last go round.

Harry will attack Fred on building the city hall at the cost of $8 million ,which was needed so I think that will blow up in his face. I do not think the people will go back. Harry is a well meaning person but not a very good manager. We need someone who has vision, demands a strategic plan and takes Daphne to the next level.

Ernie very well could be that person. However, he's got to adopt a more friendly business feel in development and lesser taxation, which have been reported his two weak spots for businesses but I don't know if that is just political gossip.

There is a political forum, I think, Aug. 5. That will tell a lot.

As for Fairhope, it's anybody's guess. With seven or eight candidates, people are all over the chart.

I would look for a run off between Kant and Bob Gentle
unless Kant losses his composure in a public meeting again, as I heard he did recently in regard to Greeno Road's new median. But Mosher and Gambino are not to be taken lightly.

None of this will help you but it truthfully is quiet and a lot of this is just my prognostication."

The takes of a couple of experienced politicos in Baldwin County are as follows:

"Daphne and Fairhope mayor's races are the races I am most familiar with.

In Daphne, I would have believed four years ago that Harry Brown was left for dead based on the ethical issues that arose during his administration. However, Fred Small has made several missteps in his first term which include the building of the extravagant and overpriced City Hall and his perceived mistreatment of the minority community over emergency housing during Katrina. Based on this, the race should be close when Small should have cruised to re-election.

Advantage Small but not by much.

In Fairhope, the number of candidates who have qualified to run against Tim Kant signifies that he is in real trouble. Kant has angered and alienated his entire council with the exception of his lone ally Mike Ford. He stated in a open council meeting that he kept secret files on council members.

The city currently has too much debt and remains behind the times when it comes to open government.

Recently, residents have been angered over the City's decision to perform construction work on Greeno Road as part of a beautification project. The timing of this project, while completely funded through a federal grant, could not come at a worse time for Kant. Turn lanes all along Greeno have been blocked as workers rip up asphalt all along the center turn lanes in order to provide a median with trees in it.

Bob Gentle, Kant's major contender, told supporters early on that he was not running for mayor; when he did an about-face and decided to run, many of his would be supporters moved to other candidates. Of the long list of candidates in the race, Gentle is still the only credible alternative to unseating Kant.

Look for Gentle to win this race in a run off.

A second view:

"The municipal elections in Fairhope demonstrate that democracy is alive and well on the Eastern Shore. With seven candidates for Mayor and eleven candidates for five city council seats one could suppose that there is a fair amount of citizen dissatisfaction with the incumbents. When added to a recent pole showing mayoral candidates Dean Mosher and Rick Gambino tied for the lead with 22 percent each and incumbent Mayor Tim Kant and Council President Bob Gentle tied for second with 19 percent each and Chris Warner with 12 percent with the remaining 6 percent split between Jack Burrell and Vincent Valentine it looks as if Fairhope will have new leadership.

The last four years have been marked by mistakes, faux pas, a panoply of costly law suits, and disputes ranging from tree cutting to cutting roads through residential areas developed to be quiet, discrete private communities to fights between the Mayor and Council.

The past term began with a new strong council form of government which Gentle and his Council supporters Debbie Quinn and Dan Stankowski have yet to figure out how to implement in order to keep Mayor Kant from doing unilaterally pretty much as he pleases. In the mean time, Mike Ford did all he could to support Kant and the real estate community.

Fairhope, with one of the more restrictive sign ordinances, heavily weighed in favor of the incumbents, didn’t stop Kant and Gambino from getting a head start with posting their signs. Kant’s headquarters is in an old gas station garishly decorated with his campaign signs. Kant’s commitment to downtown beautification seems to be taking a beating. Gentle’s red, white and blue headquarters is in a very large former sporting goods store on Section Street across the street from the dilapidated former Objects Store closed since Hurricane Ivan, an eyesore if there ever was one. Perhaps Gentle will do something about it before the election is over.

There are a number of great issues in the mix. One area revolves around the City of Fairhope public utility: Are the utility rates taxes in disguise since the utility sends millions to the city to be used in the general fund. Should the mayor earn an extra $60,000 or so by automatically serving as the Utility Superintendent? Are the rates artificially high with no connection to the cost of providing services.

Also on the table are these issues: The lack of open government, back room, secrecy, the difficulty getting city documents and an ever elusive freedom of information process. A range of issues regarding zoning and planning beginning with WalMart moving to the Daniel Corporation and RSA’s David Bronner’s mid-night special approval’s leading to the high rise at Colony to the mistreatment of several neighborhoods."

Over in Spanish Fort, things are quietest of all as, presumably, the distracted citizenry awaits (with "baited" breath?) the opening of the Bass Pro Shop.

""We have only two contests, the mayor's race and one council seat. For mayor, there's (incumbent) Joe Bonner (former Cock of the Walk restaurateur) and Terry Reeves ("a big Georgia fan").

It's kind of interesting. There's still two parts of Spanish Fort, one that is composed more of people who lived here originally and then the Spanish Fort that's pretty much corporate people who've arrived in the past 15 years or so. It's still a little bit old versus new (politically). But Joe has been pretty good at listening to folks (so the divide has been narrowed during his first term in office).

Terry is a pretty sharp guy so I wouldn't sell him short. He's now in real estate.

Joe has brought a lot more professionalism into city government. There's less tension, less in-fighting among the staff. Joe is very good at reaching out. I don't agree with all his decisions. I supported his opponent the first time. Then again I don't agree with anybody about everything. But I will say this for Joe, which is more than you can say for some politicians, he takes the same position in private as he does in public.

On the City Council, you've got Dismuke and Wanda Finchwho is the incumbent and she's been there (in office) for the most part. She attends First Baptist where she's the day care director.
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