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Lebanon council races hotly contested
Aug 05, 2005 12:00 am
August 1, 2005
In the recent past, Lebanon City Council races have been elections but not necessarily contests.
This year, however, with previous officeholders and other well-known officials on the ballot, political observers and even the candidates themselves say 2005 may be more of a battle.
Many of those who challenged incumbent councilors in recent elections were largely unknown to the average resident and often brought little political experience to the table. Some councilors' names have even appeared on the ballot with no opposition at all.
This year's Council challengers include a longtime local judge, former mayoral candidate and current city department head, and most enjoy strong name recognition among voters.
Ward 5 Lebanon City Councilor Jim Mills, who will square off against 2001 mayoral candidate Ronald McCleskey and former General Sessions Judge Haywood Barry, said he was unsure how "hotly contested" the race for his post would be, adding he has no plans to alter his campaign strategy based on the caliber of his opponents.
"Some getting in the race have been around before, maybe they got bored and wanted to do something different. I don't know," Mills said. " … I'm by no means a seasoned politician. This will be my third campaign. I enter each one with the focus that, whomever the opponents are, I'm going to run my race the way I have in the past."
And while Mills said he was uncertain as to what sparked the apparent newfound interest in city politics, Barry said he believed a growing number of residents believe it is "time for a change" in city government.
The desire for change, Barry maintained, began to emerge shortly after city lawmakers launched a plan to realign local elections with gubernatorial and presidential cycles. Barry said many residents he has met along the campaign trail were troubled by the term extensions – some as long as 13 months – that would have accompanied the realignment plan.
"When they did that, it hit me wrong" Barry said. "I felt that it was wrong. The people I've been talking to as I've went around seem to think that's not what we should be doing … I just felt like it was not what democracy is about."
Barry added his decision to challenge Mills was "nothing personal," noting the two have known each other for a number of years. The fact Barry is well-known throughout the city because of his 20-plus year career as a judge, he said, will likely prove to be an "asset" to his campaign.
"I was raised here in Lebanon … The older people know me," Barry said. "People kind of know where I came from – one of the poorer sections of town – and that I was able to come out of poverty. I think the older people in town know that. I think I still have a decent reputation from having been a judge for 24 years."
Name recognition, however, has long been identified as a key strength for incumbent officeholders as well. Still, Ward 1 Councilor Carl Wood, whose list of opponents includes Lebanon Director of Parks Alex Buhler as well as newcomers Joey Reed and David Reynolds, said incumbency can sometimes prove to be a disadvantage.
Incumbents, Wood said, have a voting record to which their opponents' can refer. Challengers, however, have no such record, he said.
"They can say anything. They don't have a voting record," Wood said. "They can be for anything."
Still, Wood explained he is no stranger to facing off against an opponent with some degree of name recognition. In his first bid for the Ward 1 seat, Wood's opponent was Buhler's wife, Charlene.
He added his opponents in this year's race will not have an impact on his campaign plans.
"I don't think it will," Wood said. "I've got multiple opponents. Two of them I don't know – I'm not acquainted with them and have really never heard of them. Mr. Buhler is the only one I know, of course; he's a city employee. My strategy is going to be really no different. I've got a record. They do not."
Meanwhile, Buhler's theory regarding the apparent resurgence of interest in city politics echoed that of Barry.
"The biggest thing that I'm hearing is that people are looking for changes, and this is probably the first time that I can remember in quite a while that you have so many qualified people running in each race," Buhler said. "I don't think there's any one particular reason."
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.