When you add it all up, Citronelle Call News Publisher Willie Gray’s razor-thin loss to Satsuma Police Chief Shane Stringer in the House District 102 race last week might be an upset along the lines of ‘Bama losing at home to Vandy.
That’s not to say Stringer didn’t run a good campaign and wasn’t a quality candidate, but in almost every measurable way Gray had an advantage — and still lost by a handful of votes. Whether voters just didn’t connect with his message or were simply turned off by the ethical problems created by a newspaper owner trying to cross from the Fourth Estate to the Second isn’t clear, but crunching the numbers shows just how the race was Gray’s to lose.
According to his filings so far — another is due later this week — Gray took in more than $160,000 in donations in the race compared with a little more than $65,000 for Stringer. Breaking it down further, Gray received $116,486 in cash from political action committees (PACs), according to the Secretary of State’s records, and another $4,283 in in-kind (non-monetary) PAC donations. Stringer got just $11,000 in PAC money and $6,158 in in-kind donations from them. The PACs were clearly betting big on Gray.
One of Gray’s biggest advantages, obviously, was his ownership of the newspaper that covers a good bit of District 102. His campaign reported receiving in-kind advertising donations of $32,350 from Gray & Gray Inc., which owns the Call News, or from Gray personally. That doesn’t include thousands of dollars in in-kind administrative costs handled by his company.
Gray’s company gave his campaign more than 12 pages of free advertising in the Call News over the course of the past year. Stringer ran zero ads in the paper.
The vast differences in money also allowed Gray to pay more than $130,000 to political consultant Jon Gray (no relation) and his company, Strategy Inc., and to inundate local talk radio with advertising spots.
And to top it all off, when Rep. Jack Williams won his primary for Senate District 34 without a runoff, Williams converted his larger signs around the area into endorsement signs for Gray’s candidacy.
On election night, as early reports had Gray up, his political team was all but declaring victory, only to see that lead disappear. It would probably be hard not to be overconfident with so many advantages.
On the positive side for Gray, at least his newspaper’s reporters won’t have to deal with the ethical conundrum of trying to cover him objectively as a state legislator.
Lagniappe picks up more awards
Assistant Managing Editor Gabe Tynes picked up a first place award for Public Service at the Alabama Press Association convention in Orange Beach July 21, adding to the 14 awards already announced. Tynes’ story examined Mobile as an “outlier” in death penalty cases. Lagniappe also received a second place award for best printing.
Reporter Jason Johnson was recently awarded a first place for Best Beat Reporting in the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) contest. His award was for coverage of a sheriff’s deputy who purchased controlled substances but was not arrested. Lagniappe competed in the under-40,000 circulation category in that contest.
Andy MacDonald received a third place award for Food Writing in the AAN contest for his column “If grits ain’t groceries …” and graphic artist Laura Mattei placed third in the Cover Design category for “The Cost of Clean Water.”