Childs takes bulk of Cairo absentee and early ballots

Thursday, April 19, 2007

CAIRO, Ill. -- After the final votes were counted early Wednesday morning, Mayor-elect Judson Childs spoke of reconciliation, but not before chastising a key antagonist for accusations that he engaged in questionable election tactics.

Childs reproached Angela Greenwell, Alexander County commissioner, for questioning whether Childs' mother should have cast a ballot in the election. Childs' mother, Mildred Davis, is 88 and living with a daughter in Decatur, Ill., since last fall because of poor health. The former owner of a Cairo funeral home, she cast an absentee ballot, and Greenwell and her supporters had questioned whether she was eligible to vote because of her current living situation.

Childs has said his mother hopes to return to Cairo when her health improves.

"It made it sound like my mother was a liar, and I didn't like that," Childs said to Greenwell in the hallway of the Alexander County courthouse shortly before 3 a.m. "But it is all history now and we need to move on. We all need to work together and use the negative energy for something positive."

Greenwell didn't appear to be convinced. "It may be beyond redemption," she said.

89 percent

Childs took more than two-thirds of Tuesday's votes -- including 89 percent of the absentee and early votes -- to cruise to a victory over Karl Klein in the contest for mayor. Childs will take office May 1, replacing controversy-plagued Mayor Paul Farris. Childs received 933 votes to 445 for Klein.

Farris' tenure was marked by constant fighting in city hall over money and the balance of power between the mayor and council. The battles played out in court actions, a short-lived council boycott of meetings with Farris and a decision from Farris of questionable legality to withhold the paychecks of council members who were his chief opponents.

The city needs a thorough review of its fiscal and legal position, Childs said. That review will be the precursor to efforts to clean up the city and sell it as a location for business. Cairo has dozens of homes and commercial buildings in advanced stages of decay. The town has lost population in every decade for the past 80 years, and the median household income is about half the national average.

There are no easy solutions, Childs said. "I am not a miracle worker."

Ballot counting dragged into the early morning hours as Greenwell and other pollwatchers and candidates scrutinized the legitimacy of every absentee ballot. After the counting was complete, Greenwell said about 60 ballots were challenged, and 13 challenges were accepted.

Once a vote's legitimacy was challenged, it was up to a panel of four election judges -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- to decide whether to accept the ballot. A tie vote allowed the ballot to be counted.

Many of the challenges failed despite documentation that a residence was uninhabitable or that a piece of mail sent to the voter was returned as undeliverable or with a notice of an address change, Greenwell said.

"The records are just atrocious," she said.

The 373 absentee ballots counted in the seven-hour session only padded Childs' margin, but the ballots reversed the results in three races. Linda Jackson, who was elevated from Ward 4 councilwoman to councilmember-at-large, took 77.3 percent of the absentee ballots to overcome James R. "Bob" Conroy. Jackson defeated Conroy 751 to 605.

Jackson, one of Farris' most vocal critics, pledged to work with the new administration.

"We are excited about having a mayor and not a dictator," she said. "I am optimistic."

Other Cairo results include:

* Ward 1: Senior council member Elbert "Bo" Purchase defeated challenger Joseph W. Holder 182-131. Voters visiting the polls had given Holder a one-vote margin.

* Ward 2: Kathy McAllister defeated Thomas W. Simpson 141-114. Simpson held a 100-93 margin among voters who cast ballots Tuesday. McAllister will replace Councilman Bobby Whitaker.

* Ward 3: Lorenzo Nelson defeated incumbent Councilwoman Sandar Tarver 78 to 65, slightly increasing the 44-37 margin among Tuesday's ballots. Tarver was the only incumbent defeated Tuesday.

* Ward 4: Richard Pitcher defeated Thomas Burris Jr. 224 to 118, holding his earlier margin.

* Ward 5: Tyrone Coleman defeated Phillip Craig Hodges 152 to 117, also holding his early lead. Coleman replaces Carolyn Ponting, who criticized both sides in the fights between Farris and other council members.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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