On election day, traffic to the Milton Coalition blog spiked. It seemed that citizens were seeking perspectives on the Milton City Council District 1 election—sadly the only competitive race in Milton. And seeing no recent comments on this race at my blog, voters reached out to me by text, phone, and email to get some sense about how to vote. Voters expressed understandable frustration that candidate communications lacked substance and were undifferentiated. True. Specifics were lacking and candidates were playing it safe. True. Every candidate was pledging to preserve Milton’s rural heritage, to ensure public safety, and serving up various other versions of motherhood-and-apple-pie. True. For many voters, it seemed the District 1 race was a crap shoot. True. However, as I have often explained at this blog, to understand Milton politics requires 1) knowing the political back stories (and there is always a back story) and 2) relying on intuition, based on experience.
Having been steeped in Milton politics for 2+ years, I have learned to connect seemingly random dots (Facebook likes from certain people, placement of yard signs on certain properties, comments from well-placed sources, etc.) to discern patterns. For example, it was very clear (and not terribly surprising) to me that each of the long-battling factions in Milton had their preferred candidate, leaving one unaligned candidate. Clearly, Jami Tucker is supported by the Lusk-Kunz (LK) faction and less clearly (but clearly enough) Adam D’Annela was favored by the Moore-Bentley-Cookerly (MBC) faction, with Andrea Verhoff the odd person out . . . perhaps not a bad place to be, if Ms. Verhoff plays her cards right.
At the top of this blog post, I have provided the final results from Tuesday’s election (a screenshot from the Fulton County Elections website), and the 2021 election results actually speak volumes about the state of politics in Milton . . . when compared to the elections of 2017 and 2019. In 2017, Laura Bentley secured 71+% of the vote, beating incumbent Bill Lusk; it was the biggest blow-out in Milton’s election history and the result of a superior campaign strategy and a hyper-diligent ground game. It was the culmination of two years of hard-fought victories against existential threats to the community and the cultivation of a large cadre of passionate citizen advocates. Paul Moore was a beneficiary of the momentum of the 2017 election, riding the Bentley wave to garner 63% of the vote in 2019. Accordingly, viewed in the light of the previous two elections, D’Annela’s poor third-place finish (22.6%) in 2021 represents a seismic shift in Milton politics . . . a swing of nearly 50 percentage points relative to Bentley’s 2017 victory and a thorough repudiation of the status quo.
Now I suspect some D’Annela backers will assert that Mr. D’Annela ran an anemic campaign. And perhaps this is true, but frankly difficult to argue given the lack of differentiation among the candidates. I would posit an alternative explanation, supported by my conversations with citizens and with long-time watchers of City politics. I strongly believe that Tuesday’s results were a rejection of the Moore-Bentley-Cookerly (MBC) faction and a clear message from citizens that they expect much better from their elected representatives. Our council members must mean what they say and must do what they say. If you promise to shift power back to citizens, then DO IT (or at least try to do it). Milton’s citizens want coherent and logical policy-making that is free of personal animosities and the influence of Special (or personal) Interests. Sadly, the 28 variances granted at Birmingham Crossroads and, worse, the abuse of process associated with these variances, were the undoing of the MBC faction. However, it took the sordid Painted Horse saga to bring into stark relief the inherent hypocrisy and illogic of the Birmingham Crossroads decisions. It was clear to all but the most blinkered citizens that the owners of The Painted Horse were treated unfairly in light of the preferential treatment given to the Birmingham Crossroads music venue. And I believe it is this realization that caused voters to reject Mr. D’Annela, who unwittingly became a proxy for the status quo in Milton.
Unfortunately, Tuesday’s results raise more questions than they answer . . . questions that appropriately addressed will lead to electoral success for Ms. Tucker or Ms. Verhoff. For example, now that Ms. Tucker’s alignment with Lusk-Kunz and big Milton developers has become obvious, are voters willing to jump from the frying pan into the fire and give the Lusk-Kunz faction (and their Mega Developer friends) a second chance? Should/will Ms. Tucker distance herself from the Lusk-Kunz faction? If not, how will Ms. Tucker justify her alignment with Lusk and Kunz? How will Ms. Tucker explain her support from Milton’s developers? And does Ms. Tucker, a newcomer to Milton, understand the history of Milton’s politics and specifically the citizen backlash that occurred in 2015 – 2017, culminating in Ms. Bentley’s election? Does Ms. Tucker understand citizens’ legitimate concerns about the strong influence of developers in Milton, who aggressively recruit and fund candidates that will push their agendas (e.g., liberal granting of variances) at Council?
And Ms. Verhoff has perhaps more difficult issues to navigate. Will Ms. Verhoff realize she is the underdog and take the risks needed to win? Will Ms. Verhoff present a true third alternative to the two factions (that have dominated politics since its Milton’s founding) or will she align with the MBC faction, in the hopes that D’Annela voters will swing to her side? Will the latter strategy alienate much of her base who seem to desire a non-aligned candidate and a clean break with Milton’s political past? Will she differentiate her positions with specifics or continue to play it safe? Will Ms. Verhoff talk more about good governance and less about policy? Will she draw a (much) starker contrast with her opponent and her opponent’s backers?
Bottomline. Ms. Tucker has the advantage of momentum associated with a near-victory in Tuesday’s election. Ms. Tucker’s disadvantage is her now obvious alignment with the Lusk-Kunz bloc of Milton politics and the potential continuation of the long-running, destructive battle between Milton’s factions (and the continuing influence of Special Interests each side represents). Ms. Verhoff has the advantage of non-alignment with Milton’s traditional factions and the opportunity to present herself as a fresh, independent voice on council . . . a break with Milton’s political past. Ms. Verhoff’s disadvantage is that she is an underdog that so far has played it safe and is a largely a cipher to citizens. Ms. Verhoff has only a short period of time to differentiate herself from her opponent and to make a strong positive impression with voters. And unless Ms. Verhoff distinguishes herself, Milton’s voters may play it safe and go with the leading candidate, Ms. Tucker, and the devil they know, the Lusk-Kunz faction.
My advice to both candidates is to not underestimate the intelligence and the concern of Milton’s voters. In the past, the citizens of Milton have not shy about unceremoniously kicking dishonest, uncaring, and incompetent politicians to the curb. Ms. Tucker and Ms. Verhoff need to both up their games. Listen to citizens. Respect citizens. Be honest and straightforward. Provide policy specifics. Stress your commitment to the rule of law and fairness. Emphasize accountability and competence. Lead with integrity. Unequivocally repudiate the influence of Special Interests in Milton. Demonstrate courage.
I will continue to blog about the upcoming run-off election in Milton in hopes of elevating the discussion and nudging the candidates to stake out specific positions and to reveal their true allegiances. My desire is that more attention be directed to issues of good governance (i.e., improving the process for how things get accomplished in Milton).
Advocating for Good Governance,
Note: I have not met with or otherwise communicated with either Ms. Tucker or Ms. Verhoff or their campaigns. I am not endorsing either candidate (at least not at this time). Right now, I have substantive concerns about both candidates. Many rumors have been swirling about Ms. Tucker’s political past (and present). Certainly, informed voters would be well advised to perform internet searches on both candidates to better understand their backgrounds—political and otherwise. My blog is fact-based, so I will not relate or otherwise perpetuate rumors about candidates unless citizens provide me with direct evidence (e.g. screenshots) that would substantiate relevant concerns about either Ms. Tucker or Ms. Verhoff.