MARIETTA — Voters chose to return Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin to a fourth term in office on Election Day Tuesday when he beat Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly.
With 100% of precincts recording, Tumlin had received 4,981 votes, about 57%, to Kelly’s 3,733, about 43%, according to unofficial results reported by Cobb County Elections.
Reached by phone late Tuesday night, Tumlin was shy about declaring victory, and said he hadn’t yet spoken to Kelly. Based on the math, however, he didn’t think “the numbers would be there,” for Kelly to make a comeback.
“We mutually both ran a good race, we got our issues out there,” Tumlin said. “And I was fortunate enough to get more who supported my issues out … She’s quality, she’s a quality person.”
Tumlin, 74, is a lawyer, accountant and former state representative who has been mayor for nearly 12 years. Kelly, 50, is an engineer and Anheuser-Busch executive who’s served two terms representing Ward 6. She will be replaced in Ward 6 by André Sims, a realtor who ran for the seat unopposed.
Kelly couldn’t be reached for comment late Tuesday, but spoke with the MDJ earlier in the night, just after polls closed.
“I think how I had so many volunteers who just put in their time … who were excited about moving Marietta forward, that is probably what has just made me most proud,” Kelly said.
Tumlin ran on a platform of stability, saying the city was in a good position — rising property values, low taxes and continued investment — under his leadership.
Kelly, meanwhile, ran as the candidate of change, promising to move the city forward by attracting more young professionals and increasing affordable housing options.
Though technically nonpartisan, Tumlin and Kelly received much of their support from Republicans and Democrats, respectively.
At Glover Park Brewery, several dozen Tumlin supporters sipped beer and cheered on the World Series-winning Atlanta Braves Tuesday night. Among the attendees were Councilman Johnny Walker, who has publicly supported the mayor, former mayor Bill Dunaway and three former Cobb GOP chairs.
Tumlin credited his volunteers for leading the charge.
“My campaign is real people oriented … we’ve had a lot of volunteers go door to door, standing on corners waving … I’ve had a lot of good friends step up and support me,” Tumlin said.
Kelly watched results — and the ball game — with a small group of family and friends at her home, including her campaign manager, Marietta attorney Justin O’Dell. Kelly’s husband, parents and children helped out with her effort.
“My family has been totally committed, and they’ve helped with everything from, you know, going door to door, (to) phone banking to texting. Friends have done likewise. And so I think having your family on board and super supportive has made it a lot easier,” Kelly said.
This was Kelly’s first competitive election in the city. Running against a three-term incumbent was always going to be a challenge, but the councilwoman said she’s enjoyed meeting with voters throughout the city.
“I ran twice unopposed, and I needed to run a full citywide election. So the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most is getting to know people throughout the city of Marietta throughout all the wards,” she said.
Tumlin said one challenge of this cycle was “a realization that you don’t know everybody” in the growing city. Another was running against Kelly, a two-term councilwoman, after being unopposed in 2017.
“This time I have very credible opposition,” Tumlin said. “Michelle’s a friend, a colleague and she’s worked hard. I’ve seen her footprint all over.”
The mayor said it was “healthy” for the city to have competitive races, saying the winners will learn from their opponents and be better for it.
Looking to his next term, Tumlin said he was hoping the city could utilize funds from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill under negotiation in Congress.
“The federal government is going to give some infrastructure money,” he said. “We’re going to have a unique opportunity to reinvest into this 150-year-old city.”