Sad turnout in city election

Published 10:06 am Saturday, May 12, 2012

Much has been written — and even more said — about the recent mayoral election in the City of Franklin. Because I don’t live in the city, I made the conscious decision to keep most of my own thoughts out of print until after the election.

Although I have a vested business interest in the city, and therefore the politics and the outcomes of elections here, it just didn’t seem right that someone who didn’t have as much skin in the game as a taxpaying resident of the city should offer up opinions on how elected city officials spend taxpayer money or conduct themselves as city representatives. There were plenty of others more qualified than I to do just that. But now that the results are in, I do have an observation I’d like to share.

It has been said by many, including colleagues here at The Tidewater News and in the local business community, that this was an election that yielded historic results. And in the context of having elected a black woman to replace an eight-term incumbent to the office of mayor in Franklin, that is certainly true. But what strikes me most about this election has much less to do with the candidates themselves and more to do with those who participated in the process that ultimately determined the outcome: the voters, and more precisely and to the point, the lack of them.

By all the accounts I’ve gathered from those who have spent lifetimes much longer than mine as residents of this city, this election was one of the most, shall we say, spirited in the history of Franklin politics. From the beginning, it had all the makings of an epic political struggle: a longtime incumbent from a prominent political family, a challenger representing substantial change at a time when voters were clamoring for it, and a wildcard contestant who certainly had the longest odds of winning but whose mere presence in the race created great uncertainty about the eventual outcome.

Yet unlike the 1992 presidential election, which featured a lineup of candidates much like the one I just described in the threesome of George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot and featured a registered voter turnout rate of more than 70 percent, only one in three registered voters in Franklin took the time to participate in the 2012 mayoral election in Franklin.

Thirty-five percent. That’s all.

I have a hard time categorizing an election as historic when so few people demonstrate that they care about its outcome.

It’s equally hard for me to believe that, given all the hype and buildup to this election, only one-third of the city cared about who would be the next mayor. Or who would be chosen to serve on the City Council. Or about the financial condition of the city. Or the future of a declining public school system. Or about anything that is impacted as a result of a free and open election.

Perhaps it was precisely the hype and the buildup that kept people from wanting to participate in this year’s election. I can certainly understand those who find the mudslinging and finger pointing of politics at least distasteful, if not detestable. As someone who follows politics and really enjoys informed debate on the important issues of the day, I confess that I oftentimes hesitate to get too close to the action without at least holding my nose for the stench.

But that is exactly why voter participation is so vital to a healthy and productive political process; if the only ones willing to participate are those who are immune to the stink of the process, the rest are left to suffer results that are often less than desirable.

I hope the results of this most recent election prove to be historic for reasons that extend far beyond the color or gender of Franklin’s new mayor. Franklin desperately needs the change that was voted for to come in the form of positive results and a united community. I trust that Franklin’s new leadership will deliver the goods.

But if not, to modify a statement from one of the candidates after the election, the 65 percent who chose to sit on the sideline when the game was on the line will have gotten exactly what they deserve.

TONY CLARK is the general manager and advertising director at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at