Driving down the campaign sign ridden Patriots Trail in Hinesville Tuesday, one thing was clear: Election Day had come to Liberty County.
After months of campaigning, the big day finally arrived for the 16 candidates vying for the mayoral and city council seats in Hinesville and nearly all of them were encamped in the Charles M. Shuman Recreation Center parking lot as residents entered and exited the poll booths inside.
“I feel good about it,” fifth district incumbent councilman Kenneth Shaw said after waving to a supporter in a passing car. “I spoke to a lot of people who’ve already voted and I feel confident.”
Just a few parking spots down from Shaw, fourth district challenger Eric Thomas was also talking about confidence, but said he other options if the votes do not go his way.
“I’m really confident that things are going to be favorable for me,” he said. “And if not, I’m still going to move on and stay in politics a little bit more where I can help people and do what I can for people.”
Councilman Jack Shuman, the incumbent in the fourth district race, said there was a possibility of a runoff election between himself, Thomas and third candidate Keith Jenkins, although he was comfortable he could carry the vote and begin his second term in January.
“I’m hopeful that it can done on the first ballot, but if not, hopefully I’ll be in the runoff,” he said. “But I feel pretty good right now.”
According to Liberty County Chief Registrar Ella Golden, a runoff election on Dec. 4 is highly likely in this year’s election, especially in the four-man mayoral race between Billy Kitchings, Robert F. (Bob) Pirkle, Sampie W. Smith and James (Jim) Thomas.
“In the past races I’ve seen, when there are this many candidates in an election there has been a runoff,” Golden said. “I look forward to a runoff this year.”
Weathered by already strenuous campaign efforts, most of the mayoral candidates joked about the prospect of campaigning for another month.
“I just think I’ll go ahead and win without one,” Kitchings said.
“It’s been fun,” Thomas said. “But you know there’s such a thing as having too much fun.”
A chance at history
But while some candidates were making jokes, two challengers were talking about stepping into a new frontier for city politics in Hinesville.
District three candidate Bonita Smith and district five candidate Angela Wilson, if elected, would be the first African-American women to serve on the city council, a sign Smith said would echo a change in local politics.
“When Angela and I make history tonight, we will be the first African-American females on the council and I’m looking forward to that because that says a lot,” she said while sitting next to Wilson. “(It says) that maybe Hinesville is growing ... at least growing past the old stigma, the good ole boy stigma.”
No problems in Walthourville
In the wake of the recent sign shredding, slashing and flattening of tires on cars belonging to Walthourville Mayor Henry Frasier and councilwoman Luciria Lovette and death threats made to other councilmembers, there was heightened security at the Walthourville polling precinct throughout Election Day.
Extra Liberty County Sheriff’s Department deputies were on site to ensure the safety of both candidates and voters and fortunately, the day went on as “a normal, typical day,” according to Frasier.