By Tuesday night, West Point will have a new mayor, and at least three of the five selectmen races will be decided. Republicans failed to field a single candidate, and only Wards 3 and 5 face the possibility of a runoff.
Current mayor Scott Ross filed qualification papers Jan 2 to run for a third term but two weeks later withdrew from the race. Former chancery clerk Robbie Robinson is being challenged by first-time candidate Darlene Cox, a former substitute teacher and a current home health consultant, for the mayor’s seat.
It is a pivotal moment in the city’s history, Robinson said Friday. Earlier this week, Japanese tire maker Yokohama Rubber Co. signed a deal with local officials to bring a $1.2 million project — and 2,000 much-needed jobs — to the community.
But it’s important to keep the momentum going, regardless of who becomes mayor, Robinson said.
He retired last year at the end of his seventh term as chancery clerk, intending to spend more time with his family, but he said he received so much encouragement that he decided to make his first bid for mayor.
While Yokohama will bring jobs, West Point will need to do its part, educating the company’s future workforce and creating the atmosphere and infrastructure needed to attract satellite industries to follow Yokohama, he said.
“We have been fortunate enough to land an international company with many, many jobs for this community, but it’s only the start,” Robinson said. “We’re going to need a mayor and board that works together to cooperate with the community and our new friends and partners.”
It is a theme he has stressed often this election season — togetherness into the future. In his role on the newly-formed Golden Triangle Regional Development Link’s executive committee, he said he has seen the work that goes into forging big-dollar deals, and he now sees the importance of hiring the right people, “taking the chain off them and letting them run.”
As a native of West Point and long-time politician, his name is well-known in the area.
“When you vote for me, you know what you’re getting,” he said. “I have a proven track record; you either like me or you don’t.”
Cox said she too is excited about the possibilities Yokohama will bring to West Point, from more money for schools to new businesses in other sectors. A native of Chicago, she moved to the area in 1997, and she has seen the impact of the 2007 closure of Sara Lee, which resulted in a loss of 1,200-plus jobs and a skyrocketing unemployment rate, which hovered at 18.2 percent — the highest in the state — in March.
Yokohama could be the linchpin upon which the community’s future rests.
“We’re feeling good about things,” Cox said Friday. “We’re rising up. This is 21st century now. It’s like unity for the community now. Everybody is really hopeful.”
The biggest challenges the new mayor will face, she said, are not only increasing jobs and improving education but also working on quality of life issues. After losing 180 pounds in two years, she has become an advocate of healthy eating and healthier lifestyles, something she said she would continue to promote if elected.
In the other races, Ward 1 is guaranteed to end Tuesday with a new selectman since Rod Bobo declined to run for reelection. Linda Hannah and William Young will face off in Tuesday’s primary for his seat. Challenger Jimmy Davidson qualified in January but withdrew Feb. 7.
In Ward 2, incumbent Homer Cannon is being challenged by William Binder, and in Ward 3, incumbent Charles Collins will face challengers Jimmy Clark and Ken Poole. Ward 4 selectman Keith McBrayer Is being challenged by A.C. House Jr. for his post.
Voters in Ward 5 will choose between incumbent Jasper “Peicy” Pittman and challengers Gary Dedeaux and Margaret Townsend Shelton.
A runoff, if needed, will be held May 21.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.