Wednesday, May 13, 2009

TOP STORY >> Fletcher, Elliott make runoff for mayor

Leader staff writer

Two veteran Jacksonville aldermen will face each other in a runoff on June 2 for the mayor’s seat after none of the candidates received more than 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s special election.

Alderman Gary Fletcher led the six-candidate field, garnering 952 votes, or 39 percent, followed by Alderman Kenny Elliott with 789 votes, or 32 percent.

Farm Bureau manager Jody Urquhart was a distant third with 305 votes, or 13 percent, followed by developer Tommy Dupree at 215 votes, or 8 percent, then real estate agent Beckie Brooks with 155 votes, or 6 percent.Randy “Doc” Rhodd garnered 16 votes, less than 1 percent. (See editorial, p. 8A.)

In all 2,434 votes were cast, with 715 of those ballots coming from early voting and 14 from absentee ballots.

The special election to replace the retiring Mayor Tommy Swaim on July 1 has cost about $14,000.

Fletcher said he was very grateful that he made the run-off. “We had good people working for us. It was heartwarming to see the confidence the voters put in me,” he said.

“We’re running against the establishment,” he said. “We were the underdog.”

Although he raised the most money in the campaign, most of his contributions were in small amounts, Fletcher said.

Fletcher said he’s looking forward to continuing to talk to people and get his message out.

He believes both he and Elliott made the runoff because of their leadership skills, “and that’s what people are looking for.”

He added, “But we both have very distinct and different views for the future.”

Elliott said it’s been a good race up to this point and wants to continue the positive tone of the race through the next three weeks. “I’ve also got to thank everyone for their support and thank the other candidates for their efforts,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to getting more into the issues and talking to the people and hopefully getting enough votes to turn things around,” he said.

Both Elliott and Fletcher will get a chance to get into the issues during a mayoral candidate debate sponsored by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

The debate will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the community center.

Urquhart, who finished third, said, “It didn’t go my way, but I did win in a way, finishing third in my first race.”

He said, “The two guys moving will get just 18 months to get things going, and they will need to focus on education right off the get-go.”

Urquhart promised to work with the next mayor to help him be the best mayor possible.

Dupree said he tossed his hat into the race because some issues need to be brought out and discussed.

“You win some and lose some, and the voters didn’t want me,” he said, but he was still glad for the opportunity and a chance to be heard.

Brooks sent her congratulations to Fletcher and Elliott. Like Dupree, Brooks said she was happy that she was able to bring out some of the issues that where important to her.

“I feel very good about my campaign,” she said. “But it disappoints me that we had a lower-than-expected turnout.”

Rhodd said, “Obviously I didn’t do well, and don’t know what my next move may be. I might just go fishing.”

Rhodd did say he got a call Tuesday night from Elliot and promised to support him in the runoff.

Elliott, 56, is a Jacksonville native and has been an alderman since 1996 and is the coordinator of energy management for the Pulaski County Special School District.

He is married and has one daughter, twin sons and two granddaughters.

Fletcher, 54, has been a Jacksonville resident since 1968 and has been on the council since 1978 and is president of Fletcher Homes, a residential homebuilding company. He is married and has two children and five grandchildren.

Elliott has said that schools are the No. 1 concern.

“We have a common interest in our children’s education, and we must all work together on this issue,” he said.

Fletcher agrees that the schools are a top issue.

“Until the county school district gets out of the courts, which will happen soon, no one can do anything. But when it gets out, the mayor needs to take the lead role. It can be likened to a bad marriage, and the mayor will have to work through the divorce proceedings,” he said.