Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

TOP STORY >> Fletcher winner in runoff

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By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Alderman Gary Fletcher will be the new mayor of Jacksonville.

It was his third try for that job.

Fletcher jumped out to a 105-vote lead in the early voting and never relinquished the reins, beating Alderman Kenny Elliott, 1,367 votes or 54.8 percent to 1,142 votes or 45.2 percent.

The runoff election contradicted the norm by bringing out more voters than the original election — a six-candidate race held May 12.

Fletcher was the front-runner in that election where 2,437 votes were cast, garnering 39 percent of the vote to Elliott’s 32 percent.

The winner thanked his supporters outside his campaign headquarters at Crestview Plaza. Fletcher called his election a grassroots effort and credited his supporters for carrying him to victory.

“The people here is why this happened,” Fletcher said, pointing to his supporters as they laughed, applauded and ate barbecue.
“I’m just overwhelmed. It’s been a long four months.”

“I just want to be the people’s servant,” Fletcher said.

He praised his opponent for running a positive campaign. “Kenny is a class act,” Fletcher said. “Kenny and I showed politics don’t have to be gutter politics.”

“These people came as volunteers and took over the campaign,” he said in an interview. “They put up yard signs and went door to door.”

Fletcher said he, too, knocked on many doors. “I sat down with people house to house,” he said. “I was being Gary. They told me they expected a lot from me.”

Elliott called Fletcher early Tuesday evening and congratulated him on the win. “As an alderman and a resident of Jacksonville I will continue to work hard for the city,” he said.

Elliott felt good about the campaign he ran and said both he and Fletcher ran very positive campaigns. “I feel good about the issues that were raised. We worked hard, but Gary came out on top and I congratulate him,” he said.

Elliott also wanted to thank all of his supporters.

Mayor Tommy Swaim, who is resigning July 1 in the middle of his term, called Fletcher to congratulate him on his victory.
“If there’s anything I can do, let me know,” Swaim told him.

Swaim said he would “work as hard as I can to make the transition as smooth as possible” and between now and June 30 he’ll continue to do his job.

Fletcher won five of the eight polling sites, losing to Elliott at Chapel Hills Baptist Church, the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club and Berea Baptist Church.

At an earlier candidates forum sponsored by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce between the special election, May 12, and Tuesday’s runoff, Fletcher said the “choice is not between good and bad. We are both good people. If you want the city to continue in the direction it’s been going, then vote for Elliott, but if you want a change and someone with a clear vision, vote for me.”

When asked at the forum if the mayor should be leading the charge for a separate school district for the city, Fletcher said, “The mayor is the head of the city and has to be up in front on this issue and not take a wait-and-see attitude. We’ve been reactive too long. It’s time to take the bull by the horns,” he said.

Fletcher has said that he wants to create an education commission and fund it with city money as a war chest to get the new district going. “We need to let the county district know we are serious,” he explained.

“We’ve got to push for our schools. The schools are the heartbeat of our community,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher was concerned about the recent brouhaha over the city’s boy’s and girl’s middle school. “I’m upset with the district and don’t feel they have a clue how to give us a quality education. Every day that these problems persist is another day that it hurts our children.”

Fletcher is displeased with the move of administrators and the middle school students back under one roof. “That building is undersized and not up to code,” he said.

Fletcher had said that as mayor he would offer the district an olive branch. “I want to play nice, but if they continue not to listen to us, we can play hardball with the best of them. I don’t want that to sound like a threat, but there are things we can do,” he said.

Fletcher said the issue of the Graham Road closing needs revisiting.

“I don’t ever remember seeing an economic study and we all know what happened economically. Closing that crossing has hurt a lot of people. We need to push and see exactly what it would cost us. I can’t see them making us pay all the money back,” he said.

Fletcher said that years ago there was talk about curving Main Street into Graham Road. “We need to look at that again. We’ve got a $4 million overpass and will soon have a $7 million improved Graham Road with two one way streets in the middle.

Traffic needs to flow,” he said at the forum.

Fletcher also wants to annex north up Hwy. 67/167 to the Lonoke County line. “Sure there’s some businesses there we may not want in our city, but the best way to make sure we don’t get more of them is to annex the area,” he said.

Fletcher added that Cabot has already come south to the county line and that by going north, the city could work with Cabot.

Fletcher first ran for mayor when he was 28 in 1982 against Mayor James Reid and lost. Again in 1986 he lost to Reid in a primary by 30 votes. Reid lost to independent candidate Swaim, who has been mayor ever since.