BY JEFF CLARK
Columbus voters decided incumbent Robert Smith will continue to lead the city as its mayor for the next four years. Smith (D) on Tuesday defeated Glenn Lautzenhiser (R) and Independent candidate Bo Jarrett an overwhelming margin in the municipal election. Smith finished with 3,580 votes while Lautzenhiser came in a distant second place with 1,320 votes and Jarrett ended the day with 255 votes.
Tuesday was filled with early concessions as Lautzenhiser and Ward 2 council candidate Susan Mackay both conceded long before the final votes had been tallied.
July 1 will mark the beginning of Smith’s second full term as mayor, although he has served the city as its mayor since October 2006 when he was elected in a special election to fill the seat vacated by then-mayor Jeffrey Rupp.
“First, I want to thank God who makes all things possible,” said Smith on Wednesday. “I also want to thank all of those who worked tirelessly throughout the campaign to ensure we were successful. To the voters, I humbly accept your of confidence in not only the work that I have done, but also the vision that I have going forward for our great city. I am committed to working with members of the council to continue the progress that was started over the last four years. I will continue to work hard to earn the trust you’ve placed in me. I will continue to have an open door policy and I will be open to input from the citizens, because I know that with everyone working together, the City of Columbus’ brighter days are yet to come.”
Smith celebrated his victory with his supporters at the Holiday Inn after leaving the Municipal Complex. Smith thanked those who had supported him during the election including Marty Turner and “his Chocolate Roses” for walking the streets for him Tuesday.
In the Ward 2 councilman race, incumbent Joseph Mickens, D, defeated Columbus business owner Mackay, R, 529 to 367. Mackay lead Mickens at the polls by two votes, 346-344, but with 206 absentee ballots up for grabs in the race, Mickens received 185 of the absentee votes to give him the victory.
Mackay, who lost to Mickens by a narrow margin in 2009, said she had issues with the absentee ballots collected in her ward.
“I want to thank everyone who supported me,” said Mackay Tuesday night at the Municipal Complex. “We ran a clean race. I think (the absentee) process is wrong and I hope that the voter ID bill will pass through to help stop all these large numbers of absentee voters.”
With almost 900 absentee votes cast in the municipal election, some of which were reportedly bought for $20 a piece through “get out the vote” personnel, some state officials are questioning the legitimacy of the amount of ballots.
With almost 20 percent of the Ward 2 votes coming in the form of absentees, Pamela Weaver, Communications Director for Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman said the number of absentee votes was “comparatively high.” Although the SOS does not maintain records of absentee votes in municipal elections, less than six percent of the votes cast in Mississippi in the 2011 general election were absentee votes. The SOS conducted a county by county examination of 18 counties that had 10 percent or more absentee ballots cast in the 2011 general election.
Sen. Pro Tempore Terry Brown, R-Columbus, said he will be meeting with Hoseman on Monday in Jackson to discuss the absentee voting trends in the municipal election.