Photo: Craig Ford and family members gather for a photo shortly after Ford was elected mayor of the City of Gadsden last Tuesday (Sept. 20). Pictured from left: Ford wife Gwen, daughter Wells, daughter-in-law Erin. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor, and Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
For the first time in 16 years, a new mayor will inhabit Gadsden City Hall.
Local business owner and former longtime state representative Craig Ford was elected Mayor of the City of Gadsden last Tuesday (Sept. 20) in a runoff against former Gadsden & Etowah County Chamber president Heather New.
Ford, who won every precinct on the ballot, received 61.76 percent (3,308) of the vote to New’s 38.24 (2,053). Ford won all 12 of the city’s voting precincts as well as the absentee ballot total. Results will be certified by the Gadsden City Council at its weekly meeting on Tuesday, September 27.
Ford succeeds Sherman Guyton, who served four terms as Gadsden mayor.
“I’m ready to go to work,” said Ford, who was born and raised in East Gadsden and attended Westbrook Christian School. “Heather, Robert Avery and the other [mayoral candidates] all had some great ideas, and we want to try to bring everybody together.”
Ford, who touted industrial development as a key campaign issue, confirmed that the old Goodyear Plant in East Gadsden has been sold and that an aluminum company will be located on the former Gulf States Steel property in Alabama City. Ford noted that due to the signing of a non-disclosure agreement, further information on the above projects was not available.
“We’re not just going to have more jobs; we’re going to have good-paying manufacturing jobs,” he said. “That’s what we ran on and that what we’re going to do.”
The unofficial breakdown of the precinct voting is as follows: Antioch Baptist Life Church, 283 to 123; East Gadsden Community Center, 353 to 128; Thompson Community Center, 137 to 101; the former Gadsden High School, 40 to 15; Carver Community Center, 274 to 94; The Venue at Coosa landing, 128 to 43; Meadowbrook Baptist Church, 623 to 410; the Downtown Civic Center, 305 to 262; Tabernacle Church, 77 to 36; Dwight Baptist Church, 234 to 167; Walnut Park Community Center, 128 to 105; and the Kiwanis Pavilion at Noccalula Falls Park, 558 to 496. The absentee ballot returns were 108 to 31 in favor of Ford.
“The results are in and while our campaign did not prevail for the mayor’s seat, I have no regrets,” said New in a statement on her campaign page on Facebook. “Let’s get behind all of our incoming elected officials and offer the help that they’re going to need. Expect great things and join me in offering to help make those great things happen.”
Five of Gadsden’s seven city council seats were determined in the runoff vote, with winners Larry J. Avery, Jr., defeating Denecia Ann Getaw in District 3; Incumbent Kent Back defeating Carrie Machen in District 4; Incumbent Jason Wilson defeating Billy F. Billingsley, Sr., in District 5; Dixie Minatra defeating Renay Stokes Reeves in District 6 and Chris Robinson defeating Incumbent Ben Reed in District 7.
The council returns only two incumbent councilmembers in Wilson and Back, as incumbent Reed was defeated in District 7 and Districts 1, 2, 3 and 6 had no incumbent running.
“I want to congratulate Carrie Machen for conducting a good race; we both ran a clean race,” Back said in a comment to The Messenger. “I am honored to be chosen again to represent District 4 and the entire city. Gadsden faces significant challenges, and we’re going to have to do some things we’ve never done before. It’s going to take a lot of courage and making well-thought decisions.”
Back said he looks forward to working with all the incoming elected officials.
Once runoff results are made official on September 27, Gadsden will seat a new mayor and five new councilmembers.
“I know the hardest part, implementing the plan, is still to come, but I know we will get results that are pleasing to everyone and that we can all be proud of if we work together,” Ford said. “I admit it will be small steps, but every step will be in the right direction. I look forward to the opportunity to bring experience with results to the office of mayor.
“I am extremely grateful for all the volunteers who worked endless hours to turn this dream into a reality, and to those who turned out to vote for me and believe in my ability to move the city forward.”
Ford added that he is excited to work on behalf of the people of the city he loves, and wants to ensure that Gadsden remains the prominent city in Etowah County. Ford said this can be accomplished by working his plan, working with the city council, and listening to the people.
While Ford was campaigning, he took note of the people voiced their concerns, which included road and drainage issues, low wages for fire, police and city employees, industrial development, crime and school safety.
Ford said that while it will be small steps to start with, every step will be in the right direction.
“I look forward to the opportunity to use my experience to bring results to the office of Mayor and the City of Gadsden.”