Phillip Tutor: The new Kings of Gurnee
Oct 11, 2012 | 2036 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In November 2008, five gentlemen stood atop a stage in downtown Anniston and shared a communal hug. Love flowed. They were sworn in as the city’s elected leaders, hand-picked by voters. A new day had dawned on Gurnee Avenue.

A few seconds ticked off the clock.

Then …

BOOM!

Stuff happened.

BAM!

Accusations flew.

WHAM!

Egos swelled.

And Anniston stood by, momentarily defenseless, as the mayor and the four councilmen rode city government into the ground. Observers had two choices: take pity or laugh; some did both. It was as if City Hall had been infected by a viral strain that renders people temporarily wacko, kind of like a comedic take on The Andromeda Strain, just without the actors.

Think about it.

Technically, the original terms of those gentlemen elected in 2008 are not complete. Yet, look at the carnage.

Councilman David Dawson, besieged by legal troubles, resigned.

Councilman John Spain, besieged by legal troubles, resigned.

Councilmen Ben Little and Herbert Palmore lost their re-election bids. (Palmore didn’t make the runoff in Ward 2; Little lost outright.)

And Mayor Gene Robinson received an emphatic head-slap from voters who said, frankly: “We want no more of your leadership.” On Election Day, Robinson received 3 percent of the votes, finishing seventh out of 11 candidates on the ballot.

There are no more communal hugs between these five gentlemen.

Nowhere in Anniston’s charter does it promise that those elected will have a brain. (If only.) In a few weeks, the next crop of politicians will climb that same stage in downtown Anniston, take their oaths of office and begin their time as the Kings of Gurnee.

Oh, small-town cynics can be harsh, can’t they? They may say: Look at who Anniston elected — a mayor who’s never been mayor, three council members who’ve never worked in elected city government, and only one returnee. Sound familiar?

Well, yes.

Assumptions are dangerous — if not unwise — yet any conjecture that the incoming mayor-council team will birth more of the nonsense that the Robinson/Little/Spain trio did is complete bunk. Who knows if Stewart and Co. will be world-beaters or average Joes? But it’s simply too far-fetched, and too pessimistic, to believe that Anniston’s new leaders will be anything other than an improvement.

Unknowns, however, exist.

How will Stewart govern? He’s smart and well-known, and he’s connected because of his time as a judge. But he’s set lofty goals and even loftier expectations; based on the support he received in the election — 55 percent of the vote — and his strong campaign, ordinary leadership isn’t what Anniston expects. Nor should it.

How will Jenkins be in his first full term on the council? It took the Ward 1 representative all of 30 seconds to bring sanity to the council when he took over following Spain’s departure. As the only returnee — and with a brief track record of council competence — it’s easy to cast Jenkins as the group’s rock: solid and capable. Let’s hope he stays that way.

How will Millie Harris react to opposing views? Her ward, Anniston’s fourth, is its most affluent and the one with fewer immediate, critical needs. Based on her well-known work on causes such as preventing animal cruelty, it’s clear she’s not afraid to voice her opinion, and fight for it, too. It will be interesting to see how quickly she becomes a person of influence on the council.

How will Seyram Selase deal with being Little’s replacement? Selase is everything Little isn’t; it’s a list too long to include here. It’s clear a majority of Ward 3 residents finally tired of Little’s anti-everything style of governing. What isn’t clear is how quickly those who believed in Little will warm to the 28-year-old Selase, or if they will. Nevertheless, he’s a tough guy not to like.

How will David Reddick take over for Palmore? Reddick, a Navy veteran, has been active in local organizations for several years, but his profile has been dramatically raised. As a first-time council member, how he deals with the four-year responsibility will mean a great deal to those he represents in Ward 2.

If Anniston can withstand the last four years, it can endure the growing pains of those unknowns. Of course, it has no choice. We’ve elected them. Soon, it will be their turn.

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.
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