Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith, walked away from the Tuesday (Aug. 14) special election as the city’s new mayor and first African-American to hold the position in the city’s history.
McGill held on to a substantial early voting lead against opponents Wayne Haver and Luis Andrade. Haver, the long-time Southside High School principal, was a late entrant into the race while Andrade, a 23-year-old University of Arkansas at Fort Smith student and outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, failed to gain traction despite being the first to announce his candidacy.
When Tuesday’s first tallies rolled in, McGill had 63.7% of the vote to Haver’s 27.26% and Andrade’s 9.04%. In actual vote counts, the initial 1,409 for McGill was almost double Haver and Andrade combined (803 together, or 603 and 200, respectively). The race continued to play out in McGill’s favor though tallies did recede as final results firmed up at around 9 p.m. McGill finished with just under 57% and 4,313 votes to Haver’s 33% and 2,503 votes, and Andrade’s 10%, or 763 votes.
“It hasn’t digested yet,” McGill told Talk Business & Politics when asked if he was ready for the title of Mayor McGill. “People have called me that, but I didn’t listen to that and I told them we have to first put the work in.”
When asked what he will do now that he can begin to transition into the role, McGill said he has more listening to do before setting priorities.
“You know, I’m going to take some time to continue to listen to people from all across the city to see where their interest lies, to see where their troubles lie, to see what they want done. … And I’m going to assess all that and gather that information to know better about the things I want to do first.”
McGill also left this message for supporters on Facebook: “This campaign has been a real highlight of my life. The fun that I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the new friends I’ve made (and the old friends I have reconnected with) have made this a wonderful and joyous journey. From the bottom of our hearts, my family and I would like to personally thank each and every person who voted, volunteered, participated, donated, placed a sign in their yard, and talked to someone about this campaign. Fort Smith is a premier city because of its incredible people. We have all been a part of history!”
Also Tuesday, At-Large Position 5 Director candidate Robyn Dawson established an early lead at 51.37% (1,088 votes) to 33.29% (705 votes) for Samuel Price and 15.34% (325 votes) for Libby Piatt. However, as the night wore on, Dawson was unable to get the 50%-plus-one needed to secure the position from current holder Tracy Pennartz, who endorsed Dawson on the May 31 deadline day after deciding not to run for reelection.
Dawson’s final numbers were 3,660 votes or 49.22% to Price’s 2,545/34.23% and Piatt’s 1,231/16.55%. Dawson and Price will face one another Nov. 6 during the general election.
Talk Business & Politics was able to reach Dawson just prior to the final vote-counts coming in. At that point, it wasn’t quite clear whether the race would go to a runoff, but Dawson felt that it likely was.
“I just want to thank the great citizens of Fort Smith for getting out to vote,” Dawson said, citing a “record turnout in this primary election.”
“I appreciate all the support we’ve been given so far, and I’m going to need that continued support as we look ahead to November to continue making Fort Smith a great place to be,” Dawson said while congratulating her opponents on the support they received as well.
Price had nothing but positive things to say about Dawson, but feeling he would better represent the working class citizens of Fort Smith who “don’t really have as much representation on the Board right now.”
“Robyn, she is an awesome lady, and I have nothing negative to say about her at all, but I do feel that her perspective is already well-represented on the Board,” Price said.
Price said the evening’s results were “fantastic” and that he “never imagined getting as many votes as I did, and I’m really excited to get to November.”
As far as how his campaign will operate moving forward, “We’re just going to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing because I think our campaign message resonates. We just need to reach more people.” Price also commented on the turnout, saying it showed how so many were “excited about the direction Fort Smith is headed.”