The rematch between Mayor Sandy Stimpson and the man he defeated four years ago turned out not to be much of a contest after all, as the incumbent cruised to a landslide victory and another four years at the Port City’s helm.
Stimpson turned out the votes to score a dramatic win over former Mayor Sam Jones, who ran something of a shadow campaign that was short on money and featured few public appearances.
Jones also garnered criticism for running what many complained was a campaign based on “identity politics,” with his base of supporters arguing race should be the central reason to put the former mayor back in office.
Unofficial totals Tuesday night showed Stimpson gathered 28,436 votes to Jones’ roughly 21,000, giving the mayor 57 percent of the overall total and a 15-point win. The victory bettered Stimpson’s showing four years ago when he won by seven points.
As Stimpson went, so, too, did the City Council that has been in place over the past four years. All seven members of the council will be returned to office. Five had opponents but none was seriously challenged, with every incumbent taking more than 65 percent of the vote.
District 2 Councilman Levon Manzie and District 7 Councilwoman Gina Gregory were unopposed.
Stimpson and the council had some rough patches in the first two years of his administration, but the relationship seems to have improved. Both branches of city government received a strong stamp of approval from Mobile’s voters Tuesday night.
District 5 Councilman Joel Daves said he believed the success he and his colleagues had in winning re-election had a lot to do with being able to work together over the past four years. He said it paid dividends for the council to be able to come to consensus on many issues throughout the term.
“The council made a real effort to work together in a harmonious way,” Daves said. “We were able to move the city forward.”
Daves won re-election to the District 5 seat with 4,179 votes to challenger Arianna McArthur’s 1,215.The council’s longest-serving member — with 20 years in office — overcame three opponents to win decisively, and Tuesday night expressed the enthusiasm that has made him a voter favorite.
“I don’t care who you are, if you live in District 1, if you ring, I will spring,” Fred Richardson said. “I dare you to call me because I will be there for you.”
Richardson retained his seat without a runoff in a crowded race over challengers Cory Penn, Tim Hollis and Perry Berens. Richardson collected 4,831 votes or roughly 66 percent of the vote. Penn came in a distant second with nearly 25 percent of the vote.
Councilwoman Bess Rich retained her District 6 seat with 6,196 votes, or more than 81 percent. Deryl Pendleton was the challenger. Councilman C.J. Small picked up 4,571 votes in District 3 to challenger Leola Chaney’s 1,143. John Williams retained his District 4 seat with 5,137 votes to challenger Robert Martin’s 2,151.
Going into the race and even throughout the day, Stimpson’s inner circle expressed nervousness about the election, but in the end, those fears proved unfounded as voters turned out in force to keep his agenda alive.
Stimpson has repeatedly run on a platform of making Mobile the safest and most business- and family-friendly city in America by 2020.
Hallmarks of his first term in office have included building a $20 million surplus fund, launching capital improvement projects to tackle infrastructure that had been neglected for years, business recruitment and bringing the Carnival Fantasy back to the city’s cruise ship terminal.
In the end Stimpson came close to matching his 2013 total of almost 31,000 votes, but Jones fell far short of the 26,699 he got four years ago. Voting overall was close to 10,000 short of its final total four years ago, although 3 percent of the total was still out at press time.
“How humbling and exciting is this?” Stimpson asked the crowd at his victory party at The Steeple in the downtown entertainment district.
He then thanked his family and brought them onstage, adding, “I’m blessed to be mayor, but I’m more blessed to have them as family.”
Stimpson went on to thank his city department heads, also pulling them onstage to share credit for the win.
“If it was not for the job they do we would have not have won this election,” he said. “These guys work hard for you every day.”Stimpson also addressed some of the racial division that had been part of the contest, saying he would continue working on his theme of “One Mobile.”
“We want to tell all Mobilians, even those who did not vote for me, I can promise you that we’re going to work just as hard for you as the people in this room, Stimpson said. “We’re going to earn your vote and work to earn your trust because we can and we will unite this city, and the opportunities that are before us, none of us can even imagine.”
“There are so many tonight that are not as excited as we are, but let me say this there is hope for every single Mobilian, no matter where you come from or what you look like — and the best is yet to come.”
The day started with good weather and a lot of activity at polling places across the city. A steady stream of voters moved toward the doors of the Michael Figures Community Center in Toulminville Tuesday afternoon, as large speakers blasted music from across the street.
Mobilians in various campaign T-shirts danced on the sidewalk while handing out fliers for the candidate of their choice.
James Jackson, a volunteer for the Timothy Hollis campaign for District 1, said turnout had been steady all day, as of about 5 p.m. He was encouraged to see it, since Toulminville has one of the largest blocs of registered voters in the city.
“Toulminville has the largest number of registered voters in Mobile,” he said, before making a reference to national presidential elections. “It’s like the Ohio and Florida of Mobile. If you win Toulminville, you’ll win the election.”
He said he was disappointed, though, that there hadn’t been many young voters since Hollis himself is only 29 years old.
Toulminville wasn’t the only polling location that had a presidential election feel. A person working the polls at Westminster Presbyterian Church said turnout had been similar to the last presidential race, between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Lagniappe wasn’t allowed inside the polling location at Westminster to ask about turnout.
Campaign workers for Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Councilman Joel Daves and District 5 challenger Ariana McArthur all said turnout had been steady all day.
A worker at Via! on Dauphin Street went one election further and compared the turnout to the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney contest of 2012. The machines at Via! had registered just over 1,400 votes by 5 p.m. The worker, who did not supply his name, said the polling location was on track to equal or surpass the total number of voters in the 2013 mayoral race.
A Sam Jones campaigner standing outside St. John’s Episcopal Church said turnout had been “steady in and out all day.”
When it came to money, the race was never close. Stimpson held a decisive advantage Jones was never able to challenge.
In June, when Jones officially announced his candidacy after months of rumors, Stimpson held a reported $292,403 in his campaign account. With Jones’ announcement, Stimpson nearly doubled his war chest that month, earning $242,393 in itemized cash contributions. Between July and the final report, filed Aug. 21, the incumbent collected an additional $347,792.
Meanwhile, between June 1 and Aug. 18, Stimpson spent a total of $766,237.94 on advertising, polling and consulting, fundraising and administrative expenses.
Jones, on the other hand, entered the race with just $715.61 in the bank. He subsequently raised $69,680 as of Aug. 18, but the relative lack of funding, coupled with the fact Jones didn’t enter the race until nearly July, left the challenger with few options.
His campaign relied heavily on social media and attempts to register young voters.
But even in cyberspace, where he clearly had hoped to spark his voters, Jones couldn’t get much momentum. The two Facebook pages dedicated to his campaign drew fewer than 5,000 likes, while Stimpson’s two Facebook pages had more than 39,000.
Dale Liesch, Jason Johnson, Rob Holbert, Ashley Trice and Gabriel Tynes contributed to this report.