Florence Mayor Wukela takes primary win as vote for unity

By: Ellen Meder | SCNow
Published: June 12, 2012
Updated: June 12, 2012 – 11:13 PM

Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela scored a decisive victory over city councilman Ed Robinson — 2,273 to 915— in the Democratic primary for mayor Tuesday, then said the result was a sign that the city not only approves of the work he has done in office but did not respond to his opponent’s divisive campaign tactics.

At a post-election rally at a downtown restaurant and in front of a group of about 30 supporters, Wukela said that in 2008 America proved that white voters will vote for a black candidate, and that Tuesday night Florence proved that black voters will vote for a white candidate with the right message. He said that while it was not pleasant having to combat racially charged rhetoric from Robinson’s campaign, it was important to him to maintain a unifying message that focused on issues important to all Florentines.

“I think it’s a statement about the fact that people are voting on the content of the candidate’s character and not the color of their skin and that’s what’s important that we’re moving forward as a unified community,” Wukela said.

Turnout was similar to the hotly contested 2008 Florence mayoral primary, which Wukela famously won by a single vote. That was in contrast to other communities across the state which saw a drop off in participation. Wukela took that to mean that the Florence mayoral race is very important to citizens.

Poll workers at traditionally conservative precincts, including the Briggs Elementary precinct, said many voters were crossing over party lines to have a say in the mayoral race.

In November’s general election, Wukela will face city councilman Steve Powers, the only politician running for Florence mayor as a Republican. Powers was elected to council four years ago as a Democrat.

Robinson sent his congratulations to Wukela via the press and has no regrets about his campaign. He did say that he was very surprised by the results.

Robinson said his campaign shed some light on how the community looks at his perspective, and especially took note of the lack of support from black ministers, who told him his message was good but his method didn’t suit them.

He also took Wukela’s win to mean that the low income and minority families he tries to work for must have either not turned out or are satisfied with the mayor’s policy, even if he is not.

“The low income and working class are now subject to the upper income and middle income and sometimes that’s what people want,” Robinson said.

He said that with his loss in the mayoral primary, he will also lose traction on city council because the race showed there’s more support behind Wukela. But Robinson said he’ll continue to fight for what he thinks is right.

Wukela said his work has been beneficial for all races and income levels in Florence. That includes his focus on crime. Wukela said that his policies resulted in a 38 percent drop in juvenile crime. He also said that dealing with abandoned buildings to revitalize communities and bringing new businesses to the downtown area is benefiting all Florentines and will help him “carry the day” in November.

“What the community wants is to unify: white and black, Democrat and Republican,” Wukela said. “They’ve said that loud and clear, and I think it’s a clear mandate for us to move forward with that challenge.”

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