Baker drops out of race

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Jack Cooley isn’t saying; Sonny Weaver isn’t complaining; Mike Baker isn’t running. The scheduled run-off for City Council District 5 in Demopolis has been called off.

Monday, Baker submitted a letter to Mayor Austin Caldwell asking that his name be withdrawn as a candidate for the District 5 race, in which he won a majority of the vote one week ago.

“Current job options possibly hinder me from devoting the time and energy to the position I have held for the past 12 years, should I be re-elected,” Baker wrote.

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On Aug. 24, Baker faced Cooley and Weaver in a three-man race for the seat Baker has held for 12 years. Baker finished first in the race with 342 votes, but only captured 46.2 percent of the vote. Cooley finished second with 40.3 percent, and forced a run-off with Baker that was scheduled for Sept. 14.

However, now that Baker has exited the race, Alabama law dictates that Cooley be declared the winner, which Caldwell confirmed Monday.

“We’ll sign a certificate of election [for Cooley] at our Thursday meeting,” Caldwell said.

For his part, Cooley said he had no plans of declaring victory until “my hand goes up in the air.”

“Once the council has certified the results, then I’ll believe it, but apparently, that’s what the law says,” Cooley said.

Weaver became the odd man out because he didn’t qualify for the run-off election, and some wondered whether he received fair treatment in this election. Much of that speculation came because Baker teetered on the edge of not running for a fourth term – in large part because of an uncertain job status.

Baker works for McClain E-Z Pack, which officially closes its doors today, and less than one week before the Aug. 24 election, Baker learned the plant would close.

“It was just really too late to get out of it then,” said Baker, who admitted that he had a hard time campaigning this year. “There were times when I couldn’t even get out of the truck to go knock on doors.”

Had Baker dropped out of the race before Aug. 24, Weaver might have fared better, though the Demopolis paramedic isn’t whining about the outcome.

“Truthfully, no, I’m not disappointed,” Weaver said. “My downfall was that enough people didn’t know who I was. They didn’t associate the name with the face, and I needed to do a better job.”

While Weaver doesn’t hold any animosity about the turn of events, the laws surrounding such an election seem odd, even by the standards of some attorneys.

Lori Lein, an attorney with the League of Municipalities in Montgomery, said there is no other action to be taken once two candidates make a run-off. If one candidate drops out, the other is declared the winner, regardless of how few votes that candidate may have received in a general election.

Why it happened

For the past year, Baker has known his employer – McClain – was in trouble. Because of that, Baker wasn’t sure if he’d have the time to serve another term on the council, much less have a job.

“I didn’t even qualify until the last day,” Baker said.

In part, Baker qualified because he felt the City Council needed stability in the wake of Caldwell’s retirement and Ronnie O’Neal’s decision not to seek re-election in District 3.

It wasn’t long in to the campaign that Baker realized his employer wouldn’t be around much longer, and with one week left until the election, he got the bad news.

“I hate it worse than anything in the world,” Baker said. “This past weekend has been the longest one I’ve ever had. I worried about it the whole time.”

In the end, Baker said it was best for the city and for himself to “back out now.”

“I didn’t lose, and the voters supported me,” he said. “But I don’t know what’s going to happen because the job market is so tough right now.”

Cooley empathized with Baker’s hard decision.

“I really regret what’s happening with Mike and [McLain],” he said. “He had to make a decision, and I know he’ll find something.”

That something could end up being City Hall. For 17 years, Baker worked for the city of Demopolis in the Fire Department. Already, there has been speculation that Baker may be offered a job with the city – possibly with the street department. If that were to happen, Baker could not serve on the council.

On Monday, Baker said no such arrangement had been discussed.

“I’ve talked to Cemex and Gulf States,” he said. “As for the city, I’m going to leave everything open and hope I can find something.”

Woody Collins, who served on the council for four years with Baker, said he didn’t know of anything available with the city right now, though he didn’t discourage the idea of bringing Baker back in some capacity.

“Mike was absolutely unique as a councilman,” Collins said. “He had 17 years of experience on the other side of the council table, and that added a lot to the council.”

While Baker said he would have a hard time compiling a Top 10 list of accomplishments during his three terms, he did point to construction of the SportsPlex as the most lasting development during his three terms.

“I can’t take credit for that project, but I sure was glad to be part of the council that did it,” he said.

Baker will finish his term on the council, which expires Sept. 30. Cooley will become the District 5 councilman on Oct. 1.