BY JEFF CLARK
Columbus business owner Marty Turner left the Columbus Municipal Complex Tuesday night with a 20-vote lead over incumbent Fred Stewart in the Ward 4 city council runoff. And after 25 affidavit ballots dwindled to 18 on Wednesday, Turner knew he had defeated Ward 4’s longtime representative.
Turner was leading Stewart, who had held the office for four terms, Tuesday night 354 to 267 before more than 200 absentee votes were counted. Turner had 422 votes to Stewart’s 402 as the last of the absentee ballots were counted. Absentee ballots were a hot commodity in the Ward 4 race, with sources close to both sides alleging “get out the vote” personnel were being paid up to $20 for every absentee vote delivered.
On Wednesday morning tensions were high in City Hall as members of the Democratic Executive Committee worked diligently to verify the affidavit votes. While it had been announced that there were 21 affidavits Tuesday night, the Wednesday morning total was actually 25. Turner questioned Tyrone Cunningham on the validity of his Tuesday night ballot count.
“You told us last night there were 21 affidavits,” Turner said in front of onlookers, including attorney Scott Colom. “Why didn’t you correct this? Why didn’t you announce this last night?”
Cunningham said he had made a mistake, and he was quickly defended by Stewart’s wife, Frances, who was there to represent her husband.
“(Cunningham’s) on the Democratic Executive Committee and he has a right to make that decision,” Frances Stewart said.
City registrar Brenda Williams, whose office oversees the municipal elections, said it was the first time she could remember affidavits affecting the outcome of a city election.
“There’s a first time for everything,” Williams said.
Once the final votes had been tallied — absentees and affidavits included — Turner defeated Stewart 433-409. Seven affidavits were discounted and were not accepted by the DEC.
After the affidavits were counted at City Hall on Wednesday, Turner quietly celebrated with some family members and supporters.
“I want to thank everyone who voted for me,” Turner said, speaking from the steps of City Hall. “This election isn’t about me — it’s for everyone that wants change. We have worked hard to get here. Now, I’m going to try and learn as much as I can about the Columbus City Council before I’m sworn in.”
Turner, who will officially take office July 1, had a considerable lead over Stewart in the May 7 primary election. However, the split between Turner and Stewart was diminished to eight votes after poll workers spent more than two hours counting the absentee ballots on May 7. Stewart had 363 votes to Turner’s 371 going into Tuesday’s runoff. Columbus Businessman Maurice Webber received only 36 votes in the Ward 4 primary.
Also in the May 7 election, incumbents Kabir Karriem (Ward 5) and Bill Gavin (Ward 6) defeated their opponents by a large number of votes. Karriem was victorious over Kenneth McFarland 490 votes to 269 votes. Gavin defeated Republican challenger Whirrlie Byrd 530 votes to 136 votes.
The general election will be held Tues. June 4. Incumbent Robert Smith faces Glenn Lautzenhiser, R, and independent Bo Jarrett. Ward 2 incumbent Joseph Mickens, D, faces opposition from former councilwoman Susan Mackay, R.