Little owns numerous titles: firebrand, politician, squeaky wheel, semi-professional litigator, and thorn in the side of his adversaries. Add to that pastor, Army veteran and three-term councilman. Love him or loathe him, the November culmination of his Gurnee Avenue tenure is undeniably newsworthy.
But buried inside the information overload from Tuesday’s election is this nugget we’d be wise not to overlook.
Twenty-three Annistonians ran for five council seats (mayor and four council members). Quick guess: Who received the largest percentage of votes?
It wasn’t mayor-elect Vaughn Stewart.
Or re-elected Councilman Jay Jenkins.
It was Seyram Selase, the first-time politician who toppled Little in what equated to a blowout victory that should have been mercy-ruled in the second half. Neither of the Ward 3 boxes gave Little any love. He lost — badly. Selase earned 62.67 percent of the ward’s vote, which is more than anyone on the Anniston ballot except for former mayor Bill Robison, who received 77.59 percent of the vote for his Ward 4 Board of Education re-election.
Talk about a mandate for change.
Ward 3, long the bastion of Anniston’s most controversial and polarizing politician, is now in Seyram Selase’s hands.
“I want to give back to the place that gave to me,” Selase has told The Star. “That’s my obligation.”
Second-day analysis of Anniston’s election rightly has focused on the obvious headlines: Stewart’s victory; Little’s loss; and Mayor Gene Robinson’s shockingly poor showing. (The mayor received only 145 votes, or 2.93 percent, or about one vote for every “STL STNDG 4U” sign on Anniston roadways. That placed him seventh in the 11-candidate field. I can’t help but wonder if there’s ever been an Anniston incumbent mayor who has fared worse than Robinson in his or her re-election bid.)
But that breakdown is missing a valuable hidden storyline.
Anniston’s predominantly black wards, 2 and 3, will be represented by youthful councilmen for the next four years. Selase, the incoming Ward 3 councilman-elect, is 28. There’s an October runoff in Ward 2 between David Reddick and Shefton Goodson, neither of whom can see their 40s. Reddick is 34. Goodson is 25.
Practically speaking, age is irrelevant. What matters is competence and work ethic. Nevertheless, some will look at the youth and inexperience of these men — particularly, 20-somethings Selase and Goodson — as speed-bumps the council may have to withstand.
That’s a shortsighted view.
If Goodson wins the Ward 2 seat, half of Anniston’s council would be comprised of people in their mid- to late-20s. For a town whose young people are often under-employed, under-educated or departed in search of better-paying jobs, that sea change can’t be oversold. Anniston’s young people, regardless of ward lines or race, need a voice — particularly a voice to whom they can relate.
A Reddick victory would keep that youth movement largely in play, and it would increase the presence of the Anniston/Calhoun County chapter of the NAACP. Considering the outgoing Ward 3 councilman’s constant — and unproven — allegations of racism within city and county departments, that can’t be oversold, either.
Election-day ballots often are dominated by a list of regurgitated names of perennial candidates and usual suspects, usually male and usually closer to retirement age than their college graduation. Anniston’s ballot this year suffered from that malady. But Anniston’s ballot also presented other choices — young candidates and female candidates, which are unfortunately in short supply.
Change for change’s sake can be politically dangerous. Change for tangible reasons can be alluring, and that’s where Anniston’s council is headed. It will be altered. It will be younger. It will be diverse.
And nowhere in that discussion does Ben Little play a part.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.