Bennett prepares for sixth mayoral term
Don't expect to see many new faces at the next Thomasville City Council meeting.
Tuesday's election results produced only one change in the Chair City's political landscape as seven incumbents retained their positions for another two years. Mayor Joe Bennett returns for a sixth consecutive term after defeating a pair of challengers. Bennett collected 1,059 votes or 65 percent of Tuesday's local ballot for a relatively easy win over J.W. Mathis (435 votes, 26 percent) and Earl Harrison (176 votes, 10 percent).
"I am very pleased," Bennett said. "All in all, it was a good day."
Bennett, who started his political career serving on council, said his immediate plans are to continue working toward upgrading the city's infrastructure and creating a business-friendly atmosphere that will attract new companies and create jobs.
"You never have anything completed when you move from one year or one term," said Bennett. "Jobs are coming back but we lost them so very quickly when furniture manufacturing shut down the plants with our largest employers. It just takes times, but it's happening. We've got a lot of things on the plate."
Mathis, another former councilman, was unsuccessful in his attempt to lead the city, and Harrison suffered his third consecutive lost to Bennett. Harrison also ran for mayor in 2009 and 2011. He feels the city's voters are uncomfortable with change.
"They love and enjoy the same old status quo," Harrison said. "I don't think they think a African-American can lead the city. J.W. got close to the same amount votes I got two years ago, but they just don't think an African-American is qualified to lead the city, even with a man who served on the city council. Even with the African-American votes that we have, not to be racist, but I don't think they think a African-American can be a leader in this city as far as mayor."
Despite the defeat, Harrison, who feels the city needs to have term limitations, pledges to stay involved in local politics.
"I'll continue to be an advocate as far as holding them accountable," said Harrison. "I'll still hold them on their quest for jobs and better education in our schools. I won't stop standing up for or supporting the people of this city."
Harrison has no immediate plans to run for mayor again in 2015.
All six incumbents on city council will return for another two years, with Joe Leonard joining the fray for a first time. Leonard claimed the seat vacated by Councilwoman Jackie Jackson, who did not seek re-election. Leonard will join incumbents Raleigh York, Ronald Bratton, Neal Grimes, Scott Styers, Pat Shelton and Joel Pierce.
York, who received 1,151 votes to lead all candidates, is the senior council member entering his fifth term. Grimes (1,134 votes), Styers (1,113) and Shelton (1,101) return for a fourth term, Bratton (1,135) for a third and Pierce (964) for a second.
Leonard is known locally for his role in the annual Memorial Day parade. As he enters politics for the first time, Leonard has several initiatives he would like to see implemented, such as random drug testing for city employees, lowering the cost of insurance for city workers and working with Thomasville Police Department to create a more friendly hometown atmosphere.
"When people elect you, it's your responsibility to do what's in their best interest," Leonard said. "During the campaign, I've had a lot of people tell me what needs to be done in Thomasville. The primary part of that is centered around jobs. We need jobs in Thomasville. I think it speaks well of the city's present leadership that we have been able to survive. In the process, sometimes you lose good services that improve the way of life. We need to take a look at improving the way of life here. That would be a good start.
"We live in a society where people are rude to one another. If we're going to expect to increase business in Thomasville we need to be a polite, friendly place that people want to come bring their families and live."
According to Ruth Huneycutt, director of the Davidson County Board of Elections, 1,666 people cast a ballot on Tuesday to go with 407 who voted early. Thomasville has 15,202 registered voters.
“It was very light,” said Huneycutt of Tuesday’s voter turnout. “We were disappointed.”
Council's next meeting is Nov. 19 in the council chambers at the Thomasville Police Department, 7 W. Guilford St. Council meetings begin at 7 p.m. and are held on the third Monday of each month.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.