The stretch run

Published 10:32 am Saturday, May 1, 2010

A dull municipal election season heated up this week — at least in Franklin’s Ward 3, where incumbent Councilwoman Rosa Lawrence is in a fight for her political life.

Political activist Greg McLemore, a regular speaker at City Council meetings since his lively but unsuccessful run for mayor two years ago, has gone to cyberspace with his efforts to paint Lawrence as a puppet of the City Hall establishment.

The biggest beneficiary could be mayoral challenger James Riddick Sr., who needs a strong turnout in Ward 3 if he has any chance of upsetting longtime incumbent Jim Councill.

The mayoral and Ward 3 races became intertwined this week with McLemore’s formal — but not surprising — endorsement of Riddick and a declaration in an e-mail blast by McLemore ally Thomas Councill Jr. that Lawrence and Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson are backing Jim Councill for re-election.

Thomas Councill, who is not related to Jim Councill, offered no proof of his assertion other than Lawrence’s response to a question about Franklin Power & Light in Wednesday’s edition of The Tidewater News. In a question-and-answer series, Lawrence commended the mayor’s advice to citizens who believe their electricity bills are too high: Ask FP&L for a usage audit.

That hardly constitutes an endorsement. For her part, Lawrence told reporter Nicholas Langhorne on Thursday that she is not publicly backing a mayoral candidate.

A more compelling suggestion of a Lawrence-Jim Councill alliance came from the airwaves, where “Bishop” Rickey Beale, during paid religious programming on WLQM-AM last weekend, apparently portrayed himself as a leader of the Franklin NAACP chapter and endorsed the incumbent mayor and Ward 3 councilwoman.

It turns out that there’s no such thing as a Franklin NAACP chapter and that the civil-rights organization’s state and national offices have never heard of Rickey Beale.

If Jim Councill gets significant African-American support in Tuesday’s election, it will not only seal his re-election; it will complete his political rehabilitation in the black community, which was outraged by racially insensitive remarks attributed to the mayor by a Washington Post reporter a decade ago in the aftermath of the flood of 1999.

The relationship between the mayor and the City Council’s black members has been chilly ever since.


Another interesting race is in Ward 6, where incumbent Councilman Mark Fetherolf isn’t seeking re-election. Yard-sign king Don Blythe has been an otherwise invisible man during the campaign, missing a candidate forum last week and declining multiple invitations to participate in this newspaper’s Q&A series on important issues of the day.

Meantime, candidates Ray Smith and Jamie Brown both acquitted themselves well at the forum and in their positions published on these pages Wednesday.

We don’t make endorsements in local elections, but voters should be suspicious of one who refuses to take public stands on pressing issues during a critical period in Franklin’s history.


Just as this columnist was getting discouraged by citizen apathy, evidenced by extremely low turnout at two candidate forums the newspaper sponsored last week, I am inspired by the good folks of Boykins, who are fired up about Tuesday’s balloting.

A record dozen candidates are seeking five seats on the Town Council. That’s how democracy is supposed to work. May the best candidates win.