When the final results of Tuesday’s Ward 1 councilman special election popped up on the screen in the Municipal Complex courtroom, Ethel Taylor Stewart sat expressionless in a row of seats along with a few of her supporters.
It was not the reaction expected for a candidate who had just collected the most votes in a crowded field of nine candidates vying to fill the unexpired term of Stewart’s brother, Gene Taylor, who died unexpectedly on Aug. 5.
Stewart collected 188 votes (30.8 percent) and will now meet Liz Terry, who finished second with 124 votes (20.3 percent) in the Oct. 15 runoff. Although there were 14 affidavit ballots still to be processed this morning, those votes won’t change field for the runoff. Third-place finisher Nicole Clinkscales collected 98 votes.
Both of the runoff candidates benefited heavily from absentee votes. Of Stewart’s 188 votes, 41 (22 percent) came via absentee ballots while 49 (40 percent) of Terry’s 124 votes were cast by absentee ballots. The other seven candidates collected 18 absentee votes combined.
The smiles did eventually come for Stewart as she accepted hugs and congratulations from the small group who had gathered to watch the election returns before heading to the exits.
Still, her reaction to the results was subdued, perhaps understandably so.
“I’m speechless because I’m doing this for my brother and the citizens of Ward 1,” Stewart said. “This has been heart-breaking. It’s been encouraging. It’s been rewarding. I want to continue my brother’s legacy. I’m excited to see the numbers, but there’s some work left to do.”
Stewart, 70, is a retired nurse who moved back to her hometown a year ago.
She said she spent her campaign knocking on doors, introducing herself to residents who answered and asking for their support.
“That’s what I’ll continue to do,” she said.
Terry, 66, and like Stewart a retiree, is a member of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors. She had planned to watch the returns at the Municipal Complex, too, but arrived after the votes had been tabulated and the count had ended.
“I was a little surprised,” Terry said. “I thought it would take longer.”
Terry said although she trailed in Tuesday’s election, the outcome is far from settled.
“I was pleased with the support I got and grateful to the people who came out and supported me, but there is a lot of votes out there still,” Terry said. “Hopefully, the other candidates will join with me because I really want to help the people of Ward 1 and Columbus. I was a little disappointed with the turnout (609 votes out of roughly 2,700). I’ll definitely be out there trying to push people to get to the polls for the runoff.”
The other candidates were Tommy Jackson, 59 votes; Trent Bush, 52 votes; Nedra D. Lowery, 35 votes; Anthony Sanders, 20 votes; Adrienne R. Morris, 17 votes; and Patrick E. Holmes, 16 votes.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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