We all remember that August day in ’08, don’t we? That’s when Anniston re-elected two incumbents, Councilmen Ben Little and Herbert Palmore, and paired them with political newcomers Gene Robinson, who was elected mayor, and Councilmen John Spain and David Dawson.
Today, we call it the day Anniston politics hit the skids.
What followed were nearly four years of arguing, fighting, lawsuits, public inquiries and unfounded cries of corruption inside the Anniston Police Department. Competent government went on hiatus.
In time, two of those newcomers, Spain and Dawson, resigned in disgrace before their terms were finished. And Tuesday night, Anniston voters gave the three remaining ’08 victors their walking papers.
It is a crystal-clear sign that Annistonians are tired of these men’s tomfoolery.
Anniston native Vaughn Stewart won a landslide vote in the crowded mayoral field, sweeping past second-place challenger Ann Welch and far, far ahead of Robinson, whose tumultuous time at City Hall will end in November. Our hope is that Stewart will lead the city down a path that features more progress and less political mischief.
To steal Stewart’s line, it’s time.
More than Robinson, though, it is Little’s Election Day fate that perfectly exemplifies what happens when politicians put personal agendas ahead of governance.
Little has represented Ward 3 since 2000. He made a career out of staunchly defending his ward’s turf. He stomped on toes and turned City Council meetings into bully pulpit sessions. With increasing regularity, he sprayed unproven accusations at people (fellow councilmen and the mayor) and departments (the Calhoun County courthouse, Anniston Police) that divided the city and, at times, shut down government.
And, yes, he still comically claims Native Americans own the land rights to McClellan.
Ward 3 voters who had three times put him in office tired of his shenanigans and the negative publicity he brought to their neighborhoods. He lost Tuesday night to a young, motivated political newcomer, Seyram Selase. It wasn’t close.
Little, along with Robinson and Palmore, did this to themselves. The blame is theirs.
There is four years’ worth of fault to divide between these men. Spain was power-hungry. Dawson was wholly ineffective. Palmore stayed largely out of trouble and away from the fray — but in this election, he’s guilty by association if nothing else. Little’s constant cries of racism and corruption undermined his credibility.
Quite frankly, his fate was foretold right after the ’08 election. He insulted Anniston’s sizeable black community following his defeat of former incumbent Chip Howell. He quickly began sparring with Little, their verbal matches turning council meetings into Jerry Springer episodes. He and Spain tussled in a hallway.
Over time, Anniston’s City Hall continually dissolved into a morass of political embarrassments, and Robinson sat in the chief’s chair.
Tuesday night’s referendum on the last four years proved decisive. Annistonians want good government. They want competence. They want progress, not shame. They want what they haven’t had for too long; Annistonians cleaned house. Their message has been sent.