It wasn’t long after the polls closed Tuesday night when Macon Mayor Robert Reichert took the podium and informed his supporters that “with 39 [of 40] precincts in, we have 24,558 votes.”
A smattering of hesitant applause rippled through the downtown ballroom.
“Mayor Ellis has 13 thousand,” Reichert continued before he was drowned out mid-number by thunderous applause.
Reichert beat his predecessor and longtime political rival C. Jack Ellis by a hefty 26 percentage points in Tuesday’s runoff. He will be the first mayor of the consolidated Macon and Bibb County government.
Meanwhile, at the Ellis election night party across town there were about two dozen supporters dressed in campaign shirts. They played pool, talked over cocktails and waited for their candidate. Many left before he eventually showed.
“You know he helped the community out,” said Andrew Banks, an Ellis supporter who had spent the day waving signs to passing drivers.
Banks and other supporters quietly melted away as the results became clear.
“Quiet” was also an apt description Tuesday night for what had become, in recent days, the noisiest race for city-county commission.
It was hours before the final precinct was counted, giving Rabbi Larry Schlesinger a razor-thin win over the Reverend Henry Ficklin, and the poisonous race might not be over yet.
“Apparently we’ve won the election. We know that there will be a recount, and we’ll just see,” Schlesinger said.
The race heated up in the final days before the election after Ficklin made an issue of Schlesinger’s Judaism.
The two candidates are neighbors and fellow Macon City Council members. Schlesinger said he knew it would be close.
In contrast, Reichert’s decisive margin of victory in the race for city-county mayor allowed him to revel without reservation. “We are excited, we are thrilled, this is a great night for us,” he said.
Support for Reichert, who is white, and Ellis, who is black, broke down largely along racial lines. However, preliminary results indicate there was more crossover for Reichert than for Ellis.
Reichert said he hopes that means the racial divides of the past are starting to heal. “More than anything else we need to unite this community like it has not been united in decades,” he said.
Macon and surrounding Bibb County will become one on New Year’s Day. Reichert said all his energies as mayor will be focused on making that transition smooth, and he’ll start by convening informal meetings between himself and the nine new commissioners while the old city and county governments remain in place.
“You’ve got to lay a foundation before you start building,” Reichert said. “This is going to be a process; it’s not going to be an overnight thing. It’s not going to be done on January the 1st, 2014.”
The only surprise in Tuesday’s election results was the turnout, said Telegraph of Macon opinion page editor Charles Richardson.
“Turnout in the runoff was higher than it was in the general election, by a good bit,” Richardson said. “In September, turnout was about 44 percent. And this time, roughly about 60 percent, which is a very big difference.”
In other commission runoffs, political newcomer Mallory Jones beat Macon City Councilor Beverly Olson decisively; longtime City Councilor Ed DeFore defeated former Macon Finance Director Adah Roberts; city council colleagues Virgil Watkins and Charles Jones came within 186 votes of each other, with Watkins emerging victorious.
Corrections: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that C. Jack Ellis did not address his supporters Tuesday night. He did make remarks late in the evening.