On Thursday, Lewis Blanchard is scheduled to make the long-expected formal announcement that he is committing political suicide.
Just kidding, though that's what a lot of political observers believe - especially Republicans. Many of them expect defeat in the GOP primary is a foregone conclusion as Blanchard faces off with incumbent Clay Whittle.
Whittle made his own announcement with considerable fanfare back in October, coming out so early, he said, to counter rumors that he wouldn't seek re-election. At the time I noted that he came out "first with the most," lining up powerful supporters - including Blanchard's uncle, Superior Court Judge Jim Blanchard.
The odds are stacked against any candidate who attempts to unseat a scandal-free incumbent sheriff, especially in a county that just experienced another year of improved crime statistics.
But Lewis Blanchard is no pushover, and he's getting help from a political veteran: Candi Sprague, whose last assignment: chief of staff for former Georgia first lady Marie Barnes, wife of Roy Barnes. Blanchard has built an impressive head of steam leading up to his announcement at Savannah Rapids Pavilion. He's already piled up $75,000 in his campaign war chest, compared to just $12,000 for Whittle. That's a staggering amount of money, especially for a first-time candidate with relatively little - compared to Whittle - law enforcement experience.
One early affect of Blanchard's candidacy? Whittle has been far more media-visible. He was all over television after the recent arrest of three people in the May 1996 murder of Patricia Ann Labran of Harlem. And he appeared via telephone on the Austin Rhodes radio program Tuesday, discussing legal reforms with guest host and assistant district attorney Mike Carlson.
Whittle has sometimes been criticized for letting Sheriff's Office spokesman Capt. Steve Morris do so much of the talking for the agency. Interestingly, one of those commenting on Whittle's lack of media visibility is Ronnie Strength, sheriff of Richmond County. Strength himself was the Sheriff's Office key spokesman under former Sheriff Charles Webster, and presumably knows what he's talking about.
Mercer to announce
Blanchard's announcement isn't the only one this week; County Commissioner Tom Mercer will hope for good weather Thursday morning when he stands in front of the Justice Center in Evans to announce his intention to seek re-election.
Mercer's bid wasn't a given; he had heart surgery during his term, and had worries about the job's impact on his health. But he's doing fine, and a campaign operative reports Mercer is ready to campaign - but that he may not knock on as many doors as he did in 2000.
Congratulations to Columbia County Recreation Department Director Charlie Beale. Just five minutes after the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day, Beale proposed to Gayle Lewis and she accepted. The two plan to tie the knot in May at the Lake Olmstead gazebo.
Lewis is a teller supervisor at the Georgia Bank and Trust branch in Evans, and that's where Beale met her. The customer became a suitor, encouraged by Beale's daughter, Heather.
The two have five children between them, and Lewis says they're all encouraging the union. It would be hard not to; Beale is a wonderful man - Lewis agrees, of course - and the two make a fine couple. Beale, who dresses up as Santa every year to entertain children, poses in the suit with his family every year for a different, creative Christmas card; it looks like next year's photo will have a few extra elves in it!
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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