Perhaps one the earliest predictions and most accurate summaries of Sam Jones’ Election Day performance came from a supporter of his who arrived, at about the same time the polls were closing, to his party in the conference room at Ashbury Suites. Stepping through a set of double doors, she found a mostly barren, quiet space where perhaps 20 people were sitting and talking amongst themselves.
“This is it?” she asked, to no one in particular. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
Things got more lively about 20 minutes later, when a musician sat behind a keyboard and launched into a convincing version of “Stand by Me.” But as the hour wore on, it appeared not enough people, in fact, stood by the two-term incumbent mayor and in the end, his most recent campaign may have never had any legs.
Then, at 8:15 p.m., with only a single precinct left to report, Jones entered the conference room himself and promptly conceded to Mayor-elect Sandy Stimpson.
“I called Sandy a few minutes ago and congratulated him and would really like to see him be successful in what he’s undertaking,” Jones said, thanking the people who worked on his campaign. “I don’t plan to go anywhere, I’ll still be around and still be working to make Mobile the best we can possibly make it so we can help our community unite and move forward to benefit all the people of the community. That has always been my goal and the goal of all of you.”
Mobile Mayor Sam Jones walks into a room with campaign manager Steve Raby to deliver a concession speech after losing the Aug. 27, 2013 election to challenger Sandy Stimpson.
After waging a divisive campaign in which he attacked Stimpson with racist rhetoric and class warfare, Jones said he still could have won if the turnout had been higher.
“Money is not what won this election, what won is a really low turnout,” he said. “We had a very low turnout and regardless of how much money was spent, we still could have won the race.”
There was no acknowledgement of his introverted leadership style, of his inclination to withhold public records, or of his loyalty to key staff whose poor performance has been rewarded with high pay. Neither was there any mention of the city’s half-billion dollar debt, the more than $20 million owed on the vacant Alabama Cruise Terminal, or the more $30 million being spent on the GulfQuest maritime museum, which will need to attract large numbers in order to hold its own financially. Jones spoke only of his contributions to the community and his desire to stay engaged.
“What I’d like to point out to you is that for the last 26 years, I’ve had an opportunity to make a real difference in our county government and in our city government and our community as a whole,” he said. “It is perfectly possible to be one of the greatest cities in the country and we’re headed in that direction.”
But while taking a final jab at Stimpson in recommending the mayor-elect put his “big boy pants on,” Jones also encouraged his supporters to unite behind the new leadership.
“What we will do from this point forward is assist in any way we can to keep the city moving in a positive direction and take advantage of all the prospects we’ve been working with and make sure that an orderly transition takes place,” he said. “I want all of you to understand that I don’t have any personal feeling about anybody as it relates to this race. When you get in this political arena, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you just have to be prepared to deal with it.”
The mood at Jones’ party wasn’t gloomy, but several of his supporters refused to speak publicly about the loss and some even questioned the final results. In the hallway, a two-by-three-foot cake proclaiming “Congratulations Mayor Jones” sat un-served on a tabletop.
“I’m disappointed,” said Jennifer Henry, a Jones campaign volunteer who spent several hours over the past few months manning the phone bank at his headquarters. “He’s a good person and a hard worker, but it’s a contest and somebody has to lose.”
Yet Henry, who has lived around the city for more than 30 years, said in the interest of community she would take Jones’ advice and support Stimpson in the role.
“It’s part of the process but at the end of the day, we’re all in this together,” she said. “It’s a common road we’re on, and really we all just want to bring jobs and improve the quality of life in the city. If Sandy shows us a way to make it happen, I’ll support him.”
Jones supporters Mose Donald and Mary Anderson were also conciliatory, but were wary to throw support behind Stimpson so readily.
“He’s bought a ticket but can he handle the ride?” Donald asked. “Maybe I’ll look at him six months down the road and see what he’s done.”
Anderson said “the best man lost,” but she wished Stimpson luck.
Stimpson will take the oath of office Tuesday, Nov. 5. Jones, who has worked for the military or local government all his adult life, said for him God will determine what’s next.