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Chip Drago
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Mobile County Municipal Elections

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.

Here's a look at a number of municipal elections in Mobile County for Aug. 26 with runoffs on Oct. 7.

The contestants are:

Bayou la Batre

City Council


City Council


City Council


City Council

Dauphin Island

Town Council

Mount Vernon

Town Council


City Council


City Council


City Council

The opinions and observations of our seasoned politicos:

"Creola: After four years (2000 – 2004) of being a living breathing cliché of small-town southern politics (complete with its own Boss Hogg, Roscoe and Cooter) Creola appears to have turned a page under the current mayor and council. With the news of TK moving in up the road Mayor Nelson and the members of the council have succeeded in bringing a much needed sewer system to Highway 43 north of I-65 which should open the area to commercial and residential development.

As the election approaches it appears that all the current council members should be in good position to be re-elected. However, one or two old names are back in the mix to challenge some of the newer incumbents. One issue to watch is the water war that has developed between the City and the Le Moyne Water Board. The water system is a separate entity from the city and the conflict has been over the city’s increased demand (and anticipated growth) versus the system’s capacity and infrastructure. The city recently granted a competing franchise to provide water to the same company that is set to install and operate the sewer system. It isn’t clear if any challengers are a direct result of the controversy but an unsigned flyer was recently distributed around town throwing some pretty nasty allegations at the incumbents regarding the city’s actions. Based on all the positive news however it would seem unlikely that any real shake-up will occur.

Satsuma: The big story in Satsuma is that Mayor Billy Bush is not running for re-election. It appears the Mayor is hoping his quiet exit from the stage will cool efforts to probe further into dealings of his administration. It is likely that he is not out of the woods yet despite his 'retirement' from office. The competition to replace him is between former Jack Tillman right-hand-man and current council member, Mark Barlow, and retired Satsuma High School teacher and civic activist, Pat Hicks. Give the edge in this one to Ms. Hicks.

The other issue in Satsuma is the continuing fallout over Saraland’s new school system. Word is that leaders in Satsuma were wooed by Barton Academy to oppose the move and not attempt any cooperation in return for promises about facility upgrades and assurances that the loss of Adams Middle would not cause Satsuma students to be bused out of the area. Of course, right on cue, the school system announced a plan to bus middle school students living in Satsuma to Chickasaw or the Eight Mile area. After the ensuing fireworks, the plan is now to accommodate the middle school at the local elementary until a new school is completed several miles up highway 43 on Salco Road, north of Creola. Needless to say many residents in Satsuma are unhappy with the school board but also, in some measure, they are not happy with their municipal leaders for not being more proactive early in the school system talks with Saraland. We may be seeing a changing of the guard in this community and whispers have even been heard that are favorable to consolidation. Time will tell.

Saraland: This race seems to boil down to the movers and the sitters. Under the leadership of council president, Dr. Howard Rubenstein, Saraland has been fairly progressive and with the TK plant, the racetrack project and the opening of the Highway 98/Highway 158 corridor looming on the horizon many believe the area is ready to become the next Prattville or Madison.

The race for mayor appears to be a battle of the progressives who want to move the city in development and growth (represented by Marvin “Skooter” Adams) versus the older residents who would like things to remain relatively static (represented by current mayor Ken Williams). One interesting issue in the campaign centers on the health of the candidates. Mayor Williams who is somewhere north of John McCain is reported to be almost completely blind needing assistance to get around town and Adams, a current city councilman, is only a few years removed from a kidney transplant and deals with complications related to diabetes that leaves him dependant on a wheelchair. All that aside, political observers believe the mayor’s strength among the senior citizens gives him a huge advantage if the turnout tracks recent history. If Adams can motivate the new residents who have moved into the bourgeoning subdivisions west of I-65 to vote and pick off a relatively small percentage of the seniors he may have a chance.

On the council Dr. Rubenstein and longtime council member Charles Harben are unopposed. Former council member and mayoral candidate Ron Mitchell was a last minute entry against retired state trooper Benny Peoples for the seat Skooter Adams is vacating to run for mayor.  Mitchell will be hard to beat based on his name recognition but Peoples has some prominent folks around town helping him so this one will be interesting to watch.  Former council member Sidney Butler who lost his re-election bid four years ago is back to take on longtime incumbent Charles Hanke. Give the edge here to Hanke who has much the same strength as Mayor Williams among the senior citizens.

The most interesting council race will be between incumbent Newton Cromer and newcomer Matt Cole. If 'all politics is local' how about it being within the same church? Both men are members at the large First Baptist North Mobile in Saraland and word is the race has created a little heartburn among the congregants. Not sure where the majority sits but if motivated the membership of this church could have a big impact on this race and turnout in general.

Chickasaw: Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that too many people are paying attention. It is interesting to note that local left-leaning attorney and proficient letter to the editor writer Adam Bourne is running for the council. This news along with (former state legislator and thespian) Mike Box’s community theatre mounting controversially titled avant-garde musicals perhaps Chickasaw is looking to be known as the 'Fairhope of the Western Shore.' Next thing you know the Lagniappe will have a dedicated Chickasaw or 'NoMo' column in each issue."
-- TRB,
north Mobile native

"The most interesting race is the one in Citronelle. The widow of former Mayor Herring and the wife of former mayor Presnall are both running. The incumbent Michael Waltman replaced Mayor Herring and he recommended Mrs. Presnall for her appointed seat. Apparently Mayor Presnall was beaten by his 'friend' Mayor Herring. There may be an attempt to paint Mrs. Presnall with the financial condition in which her husband left the city. Mrs. Presnall is J.E. Turner's sister. I think Mayor Waltman will eke it out. He has worked hard and there are enough people in the race to dilute the opposition.

There is no incumbent in Mount Vernon. Cleon Bolden says 20 years is enough. He teaches in Moss Point,lives in Mt. Vernon and goes back and forth trying to carry out his mayoral duties. Leophus Lyde is probably the front runner. He has been active in Mt. Vernon politics for a long time but never elected to office. Jerry Lundy is the lone white candidate. Lundy is very popular among all people in the town because he works hard for everyone. He is in his 70's so age may be a factor. Another factor may be whether the residents want to lose their Black mayor. For many, many years officials in Mt. Vernon would not annex the Shepard's Lake community because it would upset the racial balance. Cleon was a consensus candidate when he was elected 12 years ago.

The Satsuma mayor's race pits popular Mark Barlow against popular Pat Hicks. Both have deep Satsuma roots and are very responsive to their constituents. It could go either way.

Jim Trout is a favorite son of Chickasaw. I think he can pull it out. Young Adam Bourne is one to watch in Chickasaw. He is relatively new to the city but has become very involved. I think he ran as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

I don't know enough about the those opposing Ken Williams in Saraland. In a city council race I think Ron Mitchell will poll well."
-- HT,
veteran politico

"Saraland - Mayoral race. As Mayor Ken Williams (initiated the new school concept before it was a popular idea) tries for his fourth term in the 'Gateway to Progress,' he faces long-time friend and political ally, Place One Councilman Marvin "Skooter" Adams. Mayor Williams was actually Skooter's youth baseball coach. Many people were surprised to see Adams' announce for Mayor, although he's made it no secret since he retired as the City's Sewer Superintendent that one day he wanted to serve as Mayor. Adams will probably garner support from North Mobile Baptist Church and possibly from middle-aged and younger voters. However, Mayor Williams has always enjoyed high marks from the city's senior citizens. For years, the Mayor would personally supervise public works projects and Keep Saraland Beautiful efforts on weekends, sometimes overseeing dozens of Community Service Workers assigned to 'work off' speeding tickets and the like. There was a -- some say a political -- move to shut the program down, many political opponents saw it as a way to (earn) obtain support from many citizens and give the Mayor face time with ordinary citizens. The project was finally altered and eventually shut down. Whispers at local coffee shops include the topic of health for both candidates.  Adams is confined to a wheel chair and some politicos wonder if he'll be able to meet and greet voters in the manner they are used to ...

Place One will see some fireworks as well ...

Long-time local politician and successful businessman Ron Mitchell (also an active Port City Pacer) applied at the very last moment to run in Place One, now vacated by Adams. Ron had been quoted several times over the past 18 months that he had given up on politics and would focus on 'making money.'

Mitchell has run unsuccessfully before for Mayor, losing to Williams.

Retired Alabama State Trooper Benny Peoples has thrown his name in the hat for Place One. Peoples was as surprised as anyone else that Mitchell would re-enter the arena. Sources say that a meeting was called by Peoples with Mitchell, and Mitchell reportedly responded 'I changed my mind.'

Unfortunately (with all the competition), another newcomer to politics, Joe McDonald is also running in Place One. McDonald is seen as a progressive new-school outsider who could bring some truly new (and young) blood onto the local scene. McDonald and his wife are both active runners with Port City Pacers.

This will be a good race. Mitchell has extraordinary resources and extensive community involvement (Salvation Army, Lions Club, Senior Citizens, etc.) Peoples brings a life-time of public service with a strong reputation of emphasizing public safety in the growing city that is facing economic growth with the coming steel mill, race track and a new school system. McDonald may have been better off to run in a different Place, maybe against Place Five (one-time-Mayor) extremely fiscal conservative Charles Harben who will be unopposed.

Place Four Dr. Howard Rubenstein and Council President is also unopposed.

Place Two will see two members of the same church do battle -- incumbent Newton Cromer versus Matt Cole. Cromer should have the home team advantage and by all accounts, deserves another term.

Place Three promises to be a gloves off race, as Incumbent Charles Hanke attempts to hold his own against his rival Sidney Butler who was defeated by Hanke last election. Butler, an ally of Mayor Williams, holds true to his promise to try to earn his seat back on the Council.  Hanke, who lost to Williams for Mayor twice, is, according to sources, hoping to become the new Council President. Since the City went to a Strong Council/Weak Mayor system of municipal government, the action now is with Council President."
-- WEB

"I am familiar with the Mayoral election in Prichard. The incumbent Ron Davis has opposition from three challengers -- former Mayor Charles Harden, who was previously  soundly defeated by Davis in a crowded field without a runoff; Paul Smith,who  currently has a law suit pending against the City for demolishing his dilapidated property; and Howard Porter. Harden claims if elected he can lower water bills of the citizens.The winner's salary will go to $80,000 per year. I believe Davis will crush the opposition."
-- WDE

"I'm really only familiar with Dauphin Island and Bayou la Batre.

(Dauphin Island) Mayor Jeff Collier is unopposed. His diplomatic skills and professionalism are second to none. Those qualities have made him an excellent leader in a very economically and socially diverse community.

(Bayou la Batre) Mayor Stan Wright has two opponents.  Warren Seaman is the former mayor of Bayou La Batre who Wright has beaten twice. Rodney Lyons, a local commercial fisherman, is also running for mayor, but probably isn't a legitimate threat. 

Wright has led Bayou La Batre through the very difficult task of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. His head-on style of leadership isn't always politically correct, but it has been effective. Wright wins a third term without a runoff.

Councilman Henry Barnes has two opponents with large family ties in the Bayou. Edgar Burt is a Desert Storm veteran and union officer. Donna Jean Bates works for the largest hardware and boat supply business in the area.  Either could conceivably unseat Barnes.

Retired Bayou La Batre police officer Louis Hard will unseat incumbent Debi Downey. In fact, Hard will receive more votes than any other candidate in the election."
-- FST

"In Chickasaw, what's going on there now is a group formed, Concerned Citizens of Chickasaw, a couple of year ago in response to the metal shredding plant. Chickasaw was sort of left out in the cold because the facility was in Mobile but the citizens effected by the activity were in Chickasaw. So this group got started and they've been pretty high profile at council meetings.  I'm not for sure but it looks like they've put a slate together. The big thing that they're all pushing right now is more police protection, fighting crime. I think they (CCC) have a candidate for all places except one, plus the mayor (Pittman). They're fairly well organized. How influential they are in the community remains to be seen. I guess we'll find out on Election Day. But they are very cohesive. They represent the first signs of organized opposition (to a sitting administration) in quite a while. Before the opposition was almost always individualistic and incumbents generally fared well.
If I had to try to define it, I would describe it as 'old versus new,' but it is also 'known vs. unknown.' Mayor Trout has been there for a while. While Chickasaw hasn't experienced any explosive economic growth like Saraland, that would be comparing apples to oranges. Chickasaw has no room for that kind of growth. In Chickasaw, the challenge is providing the needed services within available revenues. He has managed to do that. He's kept the city in the black. Now we're got new folks coming gin who want more and that may be what the opposition , what Pittman is representing. The question is what can the city provide and exactly what does the citizenry want. That's what it comes down top: what does the public want and what are is the public willing to pay for? It is the age-old question of all government.

In Satsuma, there's Mark Barlow and Pat Hicks and two others running for mayor. And that's how everybody paints it, but you throw in those two others and it spreads the votes quite a bit. I'd be very surprised if, in fact, I'd be shocked, if there's not a runoff. I would be pretty surprised if the runoff was not between Pat and Mark. They are the two better known candidates. The question may be with all the stink surrounding the former mayor will any of it rub off on the incumbents?

You would have to say there is a lot of interest in the election in Satsuma. Four for mayor. Four for 1. Four for 2. Five for Place 3. Two for Place 4. And three for Place 5. It looks like half the population of Satsuma is running for office.

All of these people are involved in different things. Some are better known than others. I recognize most of them. Various personalities and backgrounds. It is a pretty diverse group. Not all from one walk of life. So it seems like there is a lot of genuine interest in getting involved in Satsuma's government. I'm sure the problems with the incumbent mayor have contributed to the interest. Then there's the separation of Saraland from the Mobile County school system and that has something to do with it. TK's growth and how to take advantage and prepare for it is a factor."
-- JT

"In Bayou La Batre, the interesting things I hear -- and I'm very close to lots of people on both sides of the issues -- I think Wright is in a strong position. He's got a lot of visible accomplishments. A new library, a housing development, a new sewer plant going in with a lot of controversy but I think most Bayou La Batre voters are relatively happy.

What's interesting to me politically is that Wright apparently is supporting only one of the incumbent Council members, Ramires I think. Politically, I don't know that that is very astute at all unless he just feels ding dang strong.

It is not surprising that Jeff Collier doesn't have opposition. I think a lot of Stan, but whereas Stan's personality is so down to earth, Jeff comes across as a real sharp, articulate, aggressive guy. I think he's doing a great job."
-- DRM
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