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Athens' local elections often go unopposed

A majority of candidates are running uncontested in the 2015 Athens local elections   and this isn’t a rare thing.

Opposing viewpoints fuel politics except for in the biennial Athens City Council elections, where the opposition is often lacking.

“The At-Large races frequently do have more people running than there are seats available,” Councilman Kent Butler, D-1st Ward, said. “The ward races are often unopposed.”

Seven council members make up the Athens City Council. Four members represent specific wards — or areas — in the city, while the remaining three, At-Large council members, represent all citizens of the city.

For the 2015 local election, nine out of 14 candidates are running unopposed, according to the Athens County Board of Elections website. The remaining five candidates — Aaron Dauterman (R), Patrick McGee (I), Jennifer Cochran (D-Incumbent), Joan Kraynanski (D) and Peter Kotses (D) — are all vying for the three at-large city council positions. Mayoral candidate Steve Patterson and the four ward representatives each have a position secured.

Running a race uncontested is a different game, Councilman Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, said. This will be Risner’s third uncontested race.

“I don’t have to buy advertisements, bumper stickers, or yard signs,” he said. “What I do instead is I go door to door asking people what’s on their minds. I go to meetings and gatherings, and I introduce myself and tell people I’m running.”

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Although Risner does benefit from the lack of candidates, he believes there are downsides.

“Obviously, it’s easier for me when there’s no opposition. It’s easier for me to get elected,” Risner said. “On the other hand, when there’s opposition, it generates interest and opposition tends to bring up issues, some even that I wouldn’t have considered. During a contested race you get ideas and learn things.”

Butler, like Risner, has run two uncontested races. He maintains that the citizens suffer from the lack of opposition.

“I believe opposition is valuable for the democratic process. It’s important for voters to have options and for dialogue to take place,” Butler said. “Really, no race should go uncontested.”

Butler said he doesn’t let the lack of competition change the way he does his job.

“I do not think it affects the way I do my job,” Butler said. “I think that I try my best to be accountable, and I try my best to be open to feedback and ideas.”

Risner agreed that it doesn’t affect his performance, because party differences stop mattering after election season.

“After I’m elected, I represent every member in my ward equally, whether they might be a Democrat, Republican or Independent,” Risner said. “If you’re a citizen with a pothole in front of your driveway, you’re going to hit that pothole every day on the way to work — that pothole doesn’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican.”

For citizens left wondering why so many of the races run uncontested, one Athens resident has a hypothesis: nobody wants the job.

“I would say most local elections aren't contested because most people don't want to do the job of being a council member or mayor. I encourage you to spend a week shadowing the mayor to find out why. Do you have 70 hours to spare?” Athens resident Milton Greek said in an email.

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Other residents think the lack of opposition stems from Athens history of staunch support for democratic contenders, Athens resident Rhonda Gibson said.

“I see plenty of complaints on how our City of Athens makes decisions on numerous things, but we keep electing the same people, or vote strictly Democratic on every issue. I think Republicans in this county don't even bother to run because of this,” Gibson said. “I think if they had a monkey running on the Democratic ticket, Athens would vote him in.”


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