I don’t have all that much to say about the election. You all know where I stand if you’ve been reading at all.
Howard Wiggs made the gutsy decision to turn this election into a referendum on the city manager and chief and, I like to think, the city attorney. He won, fairly handily, by 5 percentage points. And this race had a significantly larger — 30 percent or more — turnout than the last one-on-one mayor’s race in Lakeland back in 2009. See Chuck’s fascinating take on the numbers.
I’ll just add that matching votes to geography shows that the Lake Morton/Lake Mirror neighborhood precincts absolutely killed Gow. In my precinct, the Lake Mirror Center, Gow won 64 percent of the vote in 2009. He got just 41 percent of the vote this year. College Heights Baptist swung from 55 to 35. For context, Lake Mirror went roughly 53-47 for Obama in 2012. so Gow lost the urbanish, diverse, purple districts.
What does all this mean for the future of the city leadership? Well, I think one can certainly infer that the community wants the city manager gone. (The chief is a more complex question. See Ricky Shirah’s surprising success.) But one can only infer. And inferences do not deliver action or City Commission votes. Elections are not, by definition, referenda on staff — at least not binding referenda. The public cannot vote Doug Thomas or Womack or McCausland out. But we have certainly given our elected leaders something to ponder.
Remember, LPAC itself had this to say:
“The entire array of scandals, missteps, and heated conflict of the past year caught our City, its citizens and its leadership (both elected and hired) by surprise. As a result, we often saw divided opinions on the City Commission regarding actions to be taken and lack of clarity as to whom, if anyone, “was in charge”. That problem extended to the creation of this Police Advisory Commission and it continues today as old events become clearer and new events come to light. It creates substantial confusion and concern among citizens and makes it very difficult for the City management and work force to function confidently. We are uncertain how to articulate a “metric” for this problem but the problem and any results will clearly be measured by public opinion. We believe that immediately after the coming election that the City Commission should invest considerable thought in how to deal with events of this type and to much more clearly define the roles of the Commissioners, the Mayor and the City Manager in dealing with any matter that raises a crisis of public or employee confidence.”
That’s not exactly a call for a vote of confidence or no confidence, based on the outcome of the election. But it’s not a call for ignoring the election either. Clearly, the commission is going to need to discuss how the 5-point win by the only guy calling for the city to completely clean its leadership house affects its thinking.
Whatever the commission decides, I hope it will also consider the one undeniable fact laid bare by this election: No vote cast on same sex benefits for city employees carries any political consequences whatsoever.
Don Selvage, who stirringly and bravely led the charge to adopt same sex benefits last year was re-elected without opposition. Edie Yates, who not-so-bravely cast the tie-breaking vote not to adopt them also won without opposition. Treating our gay citizens and employees as full citizens carries no benefit or consequences politically here in Lakeland. I know that Don and others took some unpleasant personal heat from the public. But poltically, nothing happened. Politiclly, equality is not a winner; it’s not a loser. So you might as well do the right thing, commissioners.
It’s surprising how many issues and tough votes come out that way: full of sound and fury at the time of the vote signifying nothing come the next election. A lot of political fear, as Howard showed by breaking with the commission over leadership, is pointless.
And by the way, Howard, you know those urbanish, diverse, Obama-voting Lake Morton precincts that came through for you big time? We like gay people. They’re our friends and neighbors. In many cases, they are us. Some may have voted for you despite your quite hostile behavior during the Benefit Equality process. You should think about that when this comes up again — because it will. Whether I do it, or someone else does.
I suspect these neighborhoods that Gow lost, which are the core of our city’s “lifestyle entrepreneur” movement, will feature heavily in the Lakeland Economic Development Council’s cool-Lakeland-video film festival tonight at the Polk Theater. They grow out of the branding effort that the LEDC pursued a while back. Focus groups told the company the LEDC hired to do this that Lakeland should emphasize its “lifestyle entrepreneurs,” many of whom are gay.
LEDC leadership, like city leadership, is not exactly known for its welcoming acceptance to our gay citizens. But if it really cared about “lifestyle entrepreneurism”, I think it would do whatever it could — including leading the charge for benefit equality — to signal Lakeland’s openness and plurality. A poll just came out showing 38 percent support for gay marriage ini South Carolina. South. Freaking. Carolina. The land of Jim DeMint, Strom Thurmond, and Birth of a Nation.
Just 43 percent of the Lakeland City Commission supported something as harmless and uncontroversial as benefit equality for city employees.
At the time, I thought that wasn’t so bad, really. But the evolution of the American people on gay acceptance is more of a mutation. It’s happening with extraordinary suddeness. And when the state of South Carolina is agubaly more supportive of “lifestyle entrepreneurism” than the city of Lakeland, it’s time for us to act.
Welcome to being mayor, Howard. The gutsy stands are just beginning.