By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The upcoming municipal elections in Franklin will determine if African-Americans will retain control of the city’s council and its school board.
Currently Blacks have a 4-3 majority on council, including Mayor. Come May 3, Mayor and seats for Wards 1, 2 and 4 are being contested.
All three of the incumbents in the ward elections are defending their seats this spring. Wards 1 and 2 are held by Barry Cheatham and Benny Burgess, respectively. Thus far they do not have any challengers for their seats.
Mona Murphy, who is African-American, is seeking another term for her 4th ward seat and she is being challenged by activist and businessman Linwood Johnson, who has filed his papers to participate in the upcoming elections.
Johnson lost in a bid for the seat by 14 points four years ago. He was one of the leaders of an effort to get the city to address complaints from poor residents about the high electric bills.
The city owns the electric company which sells power to residents, using the proceeds as income for the city.
The city, Johnson and his supporters complained, failed to effectively address the issue, including selling of the city-owned utility.
Current Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn announced recently that she will not seek four years after she became the first woman and African-American to be elected to the city’s top political post.
Rumors of the Mayor not seeking reelection had been dominating the Black community’s informal news grapevine since last fall.
In a letter to her constituents and the media, a month, ago, Johnson-Ashburn offered her reasons.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision, but one that I feel confident about. I have enjoyed serving the citizens of the City of Franklin as Mayor and have been privileged to serve the City as a council member since January 1999.”
Johnson-Ashburn, who once sat in the ward 4 seat, won with support from a coalition of voters from the Black community, and from White business leaders.
But that coalition unraveled last spring when she voted to support the reappointment of School Board Chair Edna King.
The Mayor’s vote, African-Americans said, showed solidarity with the Black members council. Also she may have been responding to pressure from a threat to boycott her funeral business if she had not.
Black civic and political leadership in Franklin have not been shy about expressing their desire to retain an African-American majority on council and thus the city’s school board.
But that same network of leaders and activists fear achieving this goal may be frustrated. Just days before the filing deadline for the May 3 elections, the Black community leaders may not be able to coalesce behind a viable candidate and use its numerical voting majority to elect the next mayor.
6th Ward Councilman Frank Rabil has announced his aims to run for mayor. He is in the middle of his first term. If he loses he can still sit on council, until 2018 when this term ends.
March 1 is the deadline for potential candidates to submit their applications and petitions, with a mere 50 signatures, to quality to be placed on the ballot in May.
One candidate has filed his paper work to run for mayor from the Black community, Kenneth Sanford, a military veteran who lives in the city’s south end.
Although eager and interested in running, the lack of record of achievement in civic and political affairs in the city may hurt him.
Another who has expressed interest but has not formally declared his interest in running for mayor is Ward 3 councilperson Greg McLemore
McLemore has run for mayor twice before and lost. He is midway through his second term on council which ends in 2018.
Throughout his career on council McLemore has clashed with his colleagues over his stand on issues, especially, the Mayor. At the same time he has received support from people in his ward and from Black leadership in the city.
One group, Concerned Citizens for Parks and Recreation Reform, since last fall, had been searching for viable candidates to run for council seats and the mayor’s job.
A member of the group, Thomas Council, is a long time activist in the city’s south end. Council told the Guide the group is using the issue of the city’s inability to repair equipment at the College Drive Park in Ward 3 and , Bruce Street Park in Ward 4, to drive home the city council’s inaction on economic and educational issues of the city’s Black community.
Council said his group is taking issue with the city, by consensus of the council, to shut down the Recreation Advisory Board, which provided guidance and suggested plans on recreation programs.
Councill said that Johnson and McLemore have express interest in supporting his group’s agenda on recreation and other issues Franklin City wide.
But the plot of this spring’s political transactions, could be complicated before the final chapter of this year municipal election is written.
If Councilman Frank Rabil should win his bid for mayor, then the council must appoint his replacement to sit in his 6th Ward seat.
With Rabil’s ascension to Mayor, the three White and three Black council members must select an interim to take his seat.
“Blacks could make a deal to select someone who would side with them on issues, if one of them wins the majority to select the new 6th Ward representative,” said a Black civic leader who did not want his name used for this article. “If they can make the right deal, they could retain a working majority on council without appearing to sell out to White business establishment. If we find the right candidate. If we fight for what we want.”