Maybe Politics: Williamson ‘considering’ mayoral run against Grayson

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 25, 2004

In citywide elections, the word “maybe” traditionally resonates around workplace water coolers. With the first municipal election campaign signs doting the streets of Demopolis, solidifying a list of candidates for the Aug. 24 city elections “may be” a tough task for another month.

One reason for the indecision revolves around the late qualifying date for candidates seeking a political office in the city. Candidates will not formally qualify until July 6 — about six weeks before the elections.

In the August elections, Demopolis voters will make choices for every public office in the city, and so far, the list of definite candidates has fallen under the shadow of campaign speculation.

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For starters, it’s a definite that Mayor Austin Caldwell will not seek re-election to a position he has held for nearly two decades. Caldwell made that announcement public last year, and it wasn’t long before the first candidate threw his name in the ring.

Mike Grayson, owner of the Foscue House and Vine&Hoof, announced on July 13, 2003, that he would make a run at the open mayoral position.

“The decision has been made, so I felt it was best to go ahead and start working toward it,” Grayson said last year.

This week, Grayson put up his first campaign signs, indicating he has officially begun the process of openly running for mayor.

Besides Grayson, no one has formally announced intentions to seek the mayoral position. However, speculation about one other candidate has fast become more than just a rumor.

Cecil Williamson, who owns Fabric Fair with her husband, Wayne, has been a repeat visitor to Demopolis City Council meetings over the past three months, leading to speculation that she is considering a run for public office.

On Thursday, Williamson hinted an announcement would come within the next week.

“I’m still thinking about it,” she said. “I’m a process person, and I’m going through the process of thinking through this.”

Williamson said she would make a definite decision this weekend, though much like national political candidates, her actions are quite similar to a potential presidential candidate who has formed an “exploratory committee.” In her case, Williamson has done most of the exploring herself.

“I’m seeking out what other people are saying, and so far, I’m getting pretty favorable comments,” she said. “I’ve talked to other mayors in towns like Linden and Greensboro, and I’ve had some conversations with Austin [Caldwell].”

Though Williamson said her official decision will not come until the weekend, she likely will challenge Grayson for the mayoral position.

Another candidate whose name always circulates during city elections is Ben Sherrod. Last month, Sherrod said there was a strong possibility he would run for mayor again this year. However, some inside the Demopolis political scene believe Sherrod will not run with Williamson’s pending announcement.

City Council – District 1

Thomas Moore, the incumbent, said Thursday that he was a definite.

“I’m going to qualify the first day I can,” he said.

Other than Thomas, however, there is little speculation about another candidate entering the District 1 race.

Moore, in most circles, is respected for his leadership role on the City Council. At the same time, Moore has garnered political attention for another potential run for the Alabama House of Representatives.

In 2002, Moore lost a close race to incumbent State Rep. Lucius Black, D-York, who represents the 71st District, including Greene, Sumter and Marengo counties. Black has not attended this year’s legislative session because of illness, and some believe he will not return to Montgomery.

According to Greg Pappas, clerk for the Alabama House of Representatives, there is no procedure for removing a legislator from office because of illness. It is unlikely Black will resign his House seat, but many believe Moore will run for the position in two years. If that happens, and Moore is successful, a special election would be held to replace Moore on the City Council.

City Council – District 2

Incumbent Willard Williams, unlike Moore, will not get through this election without a challenge. Williams intends to seek re-election, but some believe there could be as many as six candidates who will look to unseat him.

Determining who those candidates are may take a while. Mitchell Congress told The Times last month that he is considering a run for office, and Congress lives in Williams’ district. Other than that name, however, no one has publicly discussed challenging Williams.

City Council – District 3

Ronnie O’Neal, the incumbent, has already announced he will not seek re-election to his City Council seat. With his departure, two names have surfaced and one has quickly disappeared.

Stephen Gutshall, an active volunteer in the community and manager of Athlete’s Foot, said Thursday that he has “kicked around” the idea of running for the seat O’Neal will vacate.

“Unofficially, it’s something that I’m considering,” he said.

While there is nothing official, another name that surfaced briefly was John Wallace, owner of Wallace Woods. However, it’s unlikely Wallace will run against Gutshall.

Other than those two names, no one has indicated a possible run. As for Gutshall, he plans to continue his consideration for another few weeks.

“I’m kind of sitting back to see who else might get in the race,” he said. “But we’ve had some conversations about it.”

City Council – District 4

Woody Collins, who some consider to be the leader of the City Council, said Thursday that he does plan to run for re-election.

As of now, Collins looks to be the only candidate in the field. No one has announced an intention to run against the incumbent, and most consider Collins to be an effective political voice for the City Council.

City Council – District 5

Mike Baker, the incumbent, said last week that he has yet to decide whether he’ll seek re-election. If he does, one candidate has already thrown his hat in the ring.

Jack Cooley, a retired regional manager for Alfa, announced last weekend that he will seek the District 5 seat. While he has not sought public office before now, Cooley said he isn’t in the race because of differences with Baker.

“I’m running for the position,” he said.

Speculation about Baker’s decision apparently hinges on the status of McClain EZ-Pac, where Baker serves in an administrative position. In early January, McClain announced the closing of its Demopolis plant. However, the company has remained open with a skeleton crew and has sights on remaining open if the economy continues to improve.

In reality, the future of McClain may have more of an impact on Baker’s decision than anything else. At one time, Baker was a city employee with the fire department. If McClain cannot recover from the economic downturn, Baker may look for a job in the city, which would allow him to earn retirement through the government.

If McClain does recover, Baker likely will seek re-election to his seat.