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Thursday, January 27, 2011 - 12:38pm

Race Divides Savannah Council

A racial rift has opened on Savannah City Council that could make it hard for a new chief executive to take the reigns in the port city.

The divide is over the search for a new city manager.

Tensions had been simmering for weeks but came into the open at a fractious meeting in which white and black council members ended up backing different candidates for the city's top administrative job.

The white members wanted the white candidate but the 5-4 majority black council chose two black candidates as finalists.

Former councilman Ellis Cook says, the situation isn't good -- whoever wins the job.

"Whoever wins will have to patch up the wounds that have been made. It's very sad," says Cook, who also is a candidate for mayor. "The teamwork just went out the window. It's very, very bad for the city."

Council members say publicly, they want the best candidate, but they also make not-so-veiled insuations that others don't.

The finalists are outgoing Albany city manager Alfred Lott and current Savannah interim city manager Rochelle Small-Toney.

The rough edges of recent politics lay bare long-simmering divisions.

The entire council is up for re-election this year and several are considering a run for mayor.