In just a few days, Smyrna residents will know who’s going to lead them in the city’s post-Bacon era, and whether an incumbent councilwoman has done enough to retain her seat.
For Smyrna mayoral candidates Derek Norton and Ryan Campbell, and Ward 2 Smyrna City Council candidates Andrea Blustein and Austin Wagner, votes cast by Smyrna residents on Dec. 3 are critical.
They are the only candidates who have had to convince voters to return to the polls after their contests in the municipal elections on Nov. 5 did not produce a winner.
Smyrna, a rapidly growing city of around 60,000 people, has been under the leadership of Mayor Max Bacon for 34 years, and his father, Arthur Bacon, from 1976-77 and again from 1982 to 1985, so this election promises a new era for the city regardless of the mayoral race outcome.
Norton, who has been a Smyrna City Council member for the last four years and who has Bacon’s endorsement, won around 47% of the Smyrna mayoral vote on Election Day on Nov. 5, short of the 50% plus one vote needed to win the five-candidate race outright.
He believes he can get the necessary numbers the second time around, facing a single opponent rather than four.
“We won every precinct Nov. 5 and have remained confident throughout this campaign,” Norton told the MDJ on Friday.
Norton, 42, grew up in Marietta and works as a lobbyist for the Medical Association of Georgia.
He is a fan of Bacon, campaigning on the promise of building upon the longtime mayor’s foundation.
Norton said he personally knocked on thousands of doors in the lead-up to Election Day, but he’s not taking anything for granted.
“We have never taken our foot off the gas and will continue to run like we are behind until the polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday,” he said. “Laura (his wife) and I are so thankful for the outpouring of support from this community.”
Campbell, Norton’s nearest rival, won about 25% of the Election Day vote, triggering the special runoff election in the race on Dec. 3.
A 26-year-old financial planner and small business owner, Campbell is praised by his supporters for his charisma, energy and drive, and his promise to bridge the gap between Smyrna’s various communities, separated along race, culture and socioeconomic lines.
He has lived in the city for 18 years.
Campbell said he’s confident he can beat Norton because 53% of Smyrna voters did not choose Norton in the mayoral race on Election Day, instead dividing the “opposition” vote among the other four candidates.
“They want something different and they had a buffet of options,” Campbell said after the election. “I thought the numbers turned out how I expected, maybe a few percentages up or down. There’s a lot of support for our vision for Smyrna, for something newer and fresher that embraces our diversity, and I think that’ll show in the runoff.”
On Friday, Campbell told the MDJ his camp is confident about Tuesday’s vote.
“Our One Smyrna message seems to be resonating with voters and people are excited to get out and vote,” he said.
Financially speaking, the runoff race has been about as close as the two candidates’ ages.
Campaign contribution and expense reports show Norton went into Election Day with more money than any of his rivals.
By the start of November, he had received around $110,000 in contributions and spent around $84,000 on his campaign, leaving him with just shy of $26,000 on hand with a month of campaigning left before the December special election.
Campbell took out a $20,000 personal loan to boost his campaign account. By the start of November he had received around $22,000 in contributions and had spent almost $40,000 on his campaign, leaving him with around $4,000 on hand a month out from the special election.
The latest campaign financial reports for both Norton and Campbell are due to be lodged with the Smyrna city clerk by Monday, showing their post-Election Day donations and spending throughout November.
According to the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration, a total of 1,629 ballots have so far been cast in the special election runoff for mayor.
Prior to the advance voting period, which was Nov. 25-27, there were 35 ballots received by mail.
During advance voting, 1,565 people cast ballots in person at polling locations, and a further 29 were received by mail.
On Election Day, voter turnout in Smyrna was around 21%, with almost 8,000 of around 36,500 registered voters participating.
Second votes, either in a special election runoff or a race rerun, are much harder to get people to cast, with turnout at the polls typically a much lower percentage than in the initial race.
In the Smyrna City Council Ward 2 race between Blustein, the incumbent, and Wagner, a newcomer to public office, only two votes separated winner from loser on Nov. 5.
Once provisional ballots were counted, the race became a tie, prompting it to be rerun on Dec. 3.
Both candidates in the City Council race are running much cheaper campaigns than the Smyrna mayoral candidates.
Blustein, who is hoping for a third four-year term on the council, signed an affidavit in January stating she did not intend to accept contributions totaling more than $2,500 in her reelection campaign, nor spend that much, thus negating her obligation to file campaign finance reports.
She told the MDJ she’s proud of the things she’s helped achieve while on the council and would like to have the opportunity to do more for her constituents.
Blustein said she felt “pretty confident” going into the election rerun, having heard from supporters who intended to cast votes for her on Tuesday.
“A lot of people told me they were so sorry they didn’t go (to the polls) the first time,” Blustein told the MDJ on Friday. “I had always won, so they just thought I would win again.”
Wagner, a 29-year-old consultant, had received almost $5,000 in campaign contributions by the end of October, and had spent just over $3,000.
He has not returned the MDJ’s requests for comment.
Anyone eligible to vote in the Smyrna city elections can cast a ballot on Dec. 3 for their preferred mayor, even if they didn’t vote on Nov. 5.
For the Ward 2 re-vote on Dec. 3, only those living in that ward of the city can vote for either Blustein or Wagner to represent them on the council, and they can do so even if they didn’t cast a vote in the race on Election Day.