Former Macon City Councilor Rev. Henry Ficklin blames gerrymandering for his 10 point loss in Tuesday's court-ordered do-over election to fill the District Two seat on the new Macon-Bibb Commission.
The Republican-led state legislature redrew local voting districts in 2012 when they passed a bill authorizing Macon's consolidation with surrounding Bibb County.
The banana-shaped new District Two includes some precincts in North Macon and the Shirley Hills neighborhood, where many voters are white and middle or upper income and turnout is historically high.
Ficklin, who is black, earned nearly all of his votes in East and South Macon precincts where there are more minority and low-income residents and turnout is historically lower, particularly in off-year elections.
"The way that the lines were drawn with the North Macon precincts," Ficklin said, "we knew that when they coupled those with some of the poorest precincts in the whole city that it was going to be an uphill battle."
Tuesday's victor is Rabbi Larry Schlesinger, a white former city council colleague of Ficklin's. The two often found themselves on the opposites sides of issues in splits that sometimes broke along racial lines.
"The voters of District Two have basically rejected the politics of division," Schlesinger said.
This election was the third match-up between Schlesinger and Ficklin in five months. Schlesinger was the top candidate in September's three-way special election that also involved candidate Paul Bronson. Ficklin then lost by just 26 votes in the October runoff.
In December, a judge ordered a re-do of the runoff because election officials used inaccurate district maps that put dozens of District Two voters into District Three.
Schlesinger voters were "bound and determined that this third time around was definitely going to be the last time around," Schlesinger said.
Ficklin said Tuesday night that he would have won the October run-off had it not been for the polling errors that forced the do-over. His legal team previously produced affidavits from people swearing they would have voted for Ficklin had poll works not mistakenly given them the wrong ballots.
By the time of the third election, weather was more harsh, driving down turnout, he said.
Looking forward, Ficklin said he is not leaving politics, and this year is another election year. "We have the state House open, we have the water authority open, there are a lot of things that are open," he said.
Contributors: Jim Gaines (The Telegraph of Macon)