In a democracy, the majority rules, but in too many cases the minority decides. Such was the case last Tuesday when a small percentage of Fayetteville voters decided who would serve for a short term on the city council beginning in August.
As with all elections, there are winners and losers. In the winners column is incumbent Mayor Mitch Colvin, who drove to a third term against political newcomer Freddie de la Cruz. New faces in the district races include Deno Hondros, who ousted freshman Yvonne Kinston in District 9.
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Mario (Be) Benavente edged out appointed incumbent Antonio Jones in District 3. Derrick Thompson defeated Peter Pappas, both newcomers, for the District 6 open seat, and newcomer Brenda McNair managed an unlikely victory over eight-year incumbent Larry Wight in District 7 .
The first daily business of the new council will be the internal election of the next mayor per tem. Reliable sources say there are four possible incumbents in the running.
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They are Kathy Jensen, preparing for a fifth term as District 1 representative, who most recently served in that position; DJ Haire, one of the longest-serving members, ready to begin his 11th term in District 4, having previously held the seat; Courtney Banks-McLaughlin, a second-term incumbent, and Johnny Dawkins, who was re-elected to a fourth term in District 5 and has never been mayor. Some observers believe Dawkins will be a long shot because he’s a registered Republican, even though the council is officially bipartisan.
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The office of mayor pro tem is ceremonial, much like the office of mayor. Nonetheless, the mayor is the only member elected at large, acts as the official head of city government and presides over city council meetings. The mayor is a voting member of the council and appoints council members to committees and liaison posts.
However, under the Fayetteville Council Manager form of government, any council member who can exercise leadership and influence when a majority of the other members vote in a particular way can effectively control the council. Colvin lost a few safe votes with former council members Chris Davis and Larry Wright, and it will be interesting to see how he plans to steer his influence with four new council members.
Colvin is very popular with his political base. Watching him interact with voters during the election is impressive. They took pictures with him like he was a rock star.
But does he have political coattails? The term “coattails” in politics refers to a popular officeholder’s ability to increase the odds of winning other candidates because of his popularity.
The mayor initially said he would only get involved in his race. As such, Colvin’s impact on other Council races seemed to have had minimal impact. But in the final weeks of early voting, that all changed when some of his campaign aides began working for Larry Wright’s campaign. It remains to be seen whether this interference will affect his working relationship with new addition Brenda McNair to the council.
If the mayor has political capital to spend, I hope he will use it to bring our community together. Regardless of the divisive issues facing Fayetteville, the mayor is elected at large to represent all citizens, Republicans and Democrats, black and white, young and old, and advocates of a restructured council over those who serve one-member districts support. The Council is non-partisan for good reason.
On August 11, four newcomers are sworn in with the veterans. On paper, that’s a good mix of experienced Council members and newcomers. Ultimately I hope it will be a good formula for Fayetteville.
Troy Williams serves on the Advisory Board of the Fayetteville Observer Community. He is a legal analyst and criminal defense investigator. He can be reached at [email protected]