Steve's Blog: Ocean Springs mayoral race one to remember

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - I'd like to share a few thoughts, observations and analysis about the political race in Ocean Springs this year.

Of course, I'm talking about the mayor's race between incumbent Mayor Connie Moran and her young, energetic challenger, Scott Walker.

Everyone had predicted a very close race, but I must admit I was somewhat surprised by the slim margin of victory for Mayor Moran. She pulled it out by the smallest of margins, winning the race by less than 100 votes.

Ocean Springs saw a record voter turnout of some 44 percent. That alone is remarkable, but it was driven primarily by the highly competitive mayor's race.

I live in Ocean Springs and had the assignment of covering the contest between the incumbent Democrat and her Republican challenger.

During one post-election story, a business owner commented that Scott Walker "energized the political scene" in Ocean Springs.

I would certainly agree with that assessment.  Walker's signs dominated the city landscape from one end to another (that could be good or bad depending on your view) and his door-to-door campaigning was relentless.

Walker and his troops made more than 10,000 campaign visits door to door. I can attest to his tenacity in that regard. He campaigned in my east Ocean Springs subdivision three times that I know about.

Mayor Moran also visited my neighborhood; once that I'm aware of, but I may have missed other campaign stops.

The enormous size and numbers of campaign signs were remarkable in this race.  The old political saying is "signs don't vote." And that's certainly case in point in this contest. If signs could vote, Walker would have been victorious in a landslide.

The campaign between these two was fairly civil on the surface at least. On the streets, there were many rumors and much innuendo. Tough to gauge what kind of difference that may have made in the campaign.

Mayor Moran's campaign tried to paint Walker as something of an "outsider," attracting big money from out of town GOP interests.

On the other side, Walker challenged the mayor's work ethic, punctuality and "off the clock" behavior.  One of his main slogans, "A leader you can be proud of," was further evidence of that strategy.

I believe Scott Walker's most insurmountable challenge was simply facing the power of the incumbency. In any race, it's difficult to unseat an incumbent, unless that person holding office has performed especially poorly or has a terrible leadership record.

Mayor Moran, for all the negative comments from her opponents, had a strong record of accomplishment to stand on.

The most visible, perhaps, was the new Biloxi Ocean Springs bridge.  You can argue all you want about whether she delayed or held up any portion of that bridge. The bigger issue, I believe, is that she clearly fought to include a walking and bicycle path and some aesthetic touches on the monster span.

At the time, many folks (including me) thought the idea of the walking-bicycle path was perhaps a good idea, but something that would be seldom used.

I was wrong.  I see people running, walking and biking the bridge all the time now.  One evening, shortly after it opened, I counted 153 people using the bridge span for recreation.  That, to me, sent a positive campaign message for Mayor Moran.

She also did a decent job of leading the city in its post-Katrina recovery. Her planning and economic development background were true assets when she faced her "baptism by flood" when Katrina hit just weeks after she took office.

The Highway 57 ball fields are another accomplishment. A project that languished in red tape, bickering and bureaucracy for years was finally at the dirt moving stage under Mayor Moran's administration.

I admire Scott Walker for a more than valiant effort in his first political race.  His campaign was the epitome of organization and efficiency. I've never seen so many signs, phone banks, personal visits and mail outs in a local mayoral campaign.

He successfully marketed his message to about half of the voters in Ocean Springs. That alone is a proud accomplishment.

Plus, Scott Walker is young and has a promising future in politics or other public service.  His gracious remarks on election night are to be commended.

Election day in Ocean Springs was unlike any voting day I can recall.  The city was truly "energized" by this hotly contested race.  At one point, Mayor Moran and challenger Walker were across the street from one another on Government Street, waving hands and signs.

My thanks to both candidates for their hard work and accessibility during the campaign.

Congratulations to Mayor Moran on a hard fought victory.

Hats off to Scott Walker for an energetic challenge that awakened a sleepy electorate in my home town.

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