Incumbent Gary Lewis defeated challenger Nathan Queen to earn another four years as Statesboro’s District 2 City Council member.
After all the votes were counted Tuesday night, Lewis won with 359 votes to Queen’s 189. Even if the race’s 140 challenged and provisional ballots all went to Queen, he would still fall short by 30 votes.
Lewis said he wants to support the GSU student community “in the lawful way, and the right way.”
The student vote became a major factor in the election, and Lewis said he plans to reach out to them by holding occasional city council meetings on the GSU campus and by also creating a GSU-centered council district.
“If we do that, I don’t think this will occur again,” he said. “We can have six or seven districts, and one of those should include Georgia Southern students — to include the students and let them know their voice will be heard.”
Lewis said the hard-fought campaign was tiring, and not something he’d want to go through again.
“I was trying to work hard and trying to do the right thing for the people,” he said. “I care for everybody — black, white, yellow or green, I love everybody.”
He took away several lessons from the campaign. “It’s a new experience and a good experience, but this will never happen again, I hope,” he said.
Queen said he lost because he didn’t get as many students out to vote as he’d anticipated. He said he plans to run for office again, and to remain active in city politics.
“I’m going to hold each of these individuals to what they said they were going to do,” he said. “They said they were going to be understanding with the students, and I expect them to be that.”
Queen said that the District 2 race was the most civil of all of the three contentious council elections, and that he will remain friends with Lewis.
“Neither one of us really attacked the other one at all,” he said. “I’ll have to go back and look at the numbers and see where everything was.”
Queen didn’t rule out the possibility of asking for a recount, and said that he felt the Southern Pines residence halls at Georgia Southern University should be in his district.
Earlier in the day, Statesboro’s District 2 polling place at the William James Educational Complex got busy quickly as 4 p.m. rolled around.
During the afternoon, several shuttles from both candidates brought voters to the polling place. While challenger Nathan Queen was driving one of the shuttles, incumbent Gary Lewis was on the lawn of the complex, campaigning to the end.
A few people who showed up to vote were turned away because they lived in the wrong district. LaToya Peebles discovered she lived in District 1 when she came out to vote, but still said coming out was significant.
“Voting is very important,” she said.
Regina Jacobs, a GSU junior, said she came to vote for Nathan Queen.
“His name was more advertised, and he’s more for the students of Georgia Southern than anything else,” she said.
Jacobs said she was concerned that Statesboro Citizens for Good Government, a group that launched more than 900 challenges to student voter registrations, was trying to take away students’ right to vote.
“The student body is what Statesboro is run by,” she said. “If you took away all of us, Statesboro wouldn’t function as well as it does.”
Krystal Grant came to vote because she wanted to be heard and make a difference in her community.
“We’re trying to better Statesboro,” she said.
She cast her ballot for Gary Lewis. “He’s been a councilman for quite some time, and I think he’s made a big impact for Statesboro,” she said.
GSU music education junior Nicole Patton said she votes in every election. She voted for Gary Lewis, based on a candidate interview she read.
“I really didn’t have any particular issues I was focused on, I just wanted to pick the candidate that represented me best,” she said.
Willie Mae Robinson said she wanted to participate in the political process. “You don’t have a voice if you don’t vote,” she said.
She said she cast a ballot for Lewis, since she was satisfied with his performance on the city council.
Folks who hoped to shave off a few miles by buying liquor in Register instead of traveling to Candler County will still have to drive to the county line for the hard stuff. Voters denied package sales in the small town with a 51-35 vote Tuesday night.
Voters also brought in James Oates Sr. as mayor once again. Oates lost the last election to current Mayor Betsy Millsap McGriff, who decided not to run in this election due to personal reasons.
Oates edged out opponent Lisa Rushing Ryles by a mere four votes.
With 86 out of 111 active registered voters paying a visit to the polls Tuesday, the town's election had an unusually high voter turnout, said election superintendent Patricia Lanier.
Oates garnered 45 votes while Ryles received 41 votes.
As poll workers counted the votes, it was evident that the majority of voters who chose Oates also voted against the liquor referendum.
Ryles thought the fact that she publicly supported liquor sales for the town as a form of revenue may have swayed voters.
"I thought it would drum up revenue and do more things for the town," she said Tuesday after learning the results of the close race. "We didn't want to impose taxes, and when the option was brought up by one of our citizens at a town meeting, I thought it was a good idea."
Ryles said if the referendum had come after she was elected, she would have still supported it. "I'm always going to tell the truth and I did," she said.
Oates said he doesn't think the referendum had anything to do with his win.
"I don't think, not really, that had a lot to do with it," he said. "I don't think the people in Register wanted liquor or needed liquor."
But McGriff thinks the liquor referendum had a great deal to do with the mayoral election results.
"Absolutely I do," she said. "I think it was a mistake to put it on the ballot at the same time as the mayor's race. I think it clouded people's judgment and they could not separate package sales from who to vote for as mayor. I think that's very unfortunate."
As voters straggled in just before deadline, most voiced opposition to the idea of package sales in the bedroom community.
"We don't need liquor," said Register councilman Harold Deloach after he cast his votes. "We have beer and wine here. We need to catch the people (who drive drunk) coming from (the liquor stores at the) Candler County (line). We'd make more profit and we won't be aggravated with (liquor package sales) either."
Josh Hand said it didn't really matter to him. "I personally don't care if people drink, but I have more concerns of people driving (drunk) and more traffic in Register."
"I'm not for it," said Laura Doyle as she followed her two small sons out of the polling station. "I just don't think it's good for our community. I'd rather them drive through Register to get it than drive to Register to get it."
Concerns for the town
: Ryles said she is concerned for the town's future and is disappointed in her close loss.
"I thought we'd done a really good job," she said. "I knew it would be close."
The former Register council member hoped to continue improvements that have been made to the town, including a new playground for children, renovation of the town hall (a historic one-room schoolhouse) and improved water quality.
Recalling a time before she ran for council when she "filled up the bathtub for" her child and the "water was orange," she said "We've come a long way. Betsy did a really good job, but she didn't want to run again right now. Nothing was done for so many years. I was hoping to keep the momentum up."
McGriff was very vocal in her dissatisfaction of the election results.
"I'm very disappointed," she said. "I supported Lisa and felt like she did a lot on the council."
McGriff said she inherited many problems when she was elected mayor two years ago. "We were in violation with our water system with the (Environmental Protection Division) and had been so for many years. We had unspent SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds, which don't accrue interest. The community center was riddled with termites, as was the town hall. We worked very hard to correct those things, and I'm sorry to say I don't think those reforms will continue."
Oates said his plan is to "go back to basics."
Reading from a flyer he distributed before the election, he cited his views: no town taxes, no liquor sales, no package stores. "Let's keep our bedroom community a bedroom community," he said.
He said his plans are to have a "complete audit" and said he will not "plunge the town into debt." He said he will "stop unnecessary spending" and reminded citizens that while in office previously, he installed new water mains for fire protection and started revitalizing the downtown area.
He will also reinstate monthly financial statements t be issued to the town's citizens, he said. "I think the people should know where the money is at all times."
As for the town's previous water issues, he said "We had our problems. I inherited a bad problem with water when I took over. I don't have any apologies to make about the water system."
The election also had three council seats up for grabs, but no candidates were opposed, although Deloach garnered a handful of write-in votes in site of his already being in office on another seat.
Register Town Council Seat #3 was won by lack of opposition by Gail Edwards: Katie O'Grady, also unapposed, took Register Town Council Seat #4 and Ryan Pilz won the Register Town Council Seat #5.