Valdosta - Is the late Mayor James Rainwater a legal candidate in the Valdosta mayoral race, and should votes cast for him be counted? After a full day of testimony, Superior Court Judge Joe Bishop is considering the answers to those questions. "I trust that he's an unbiased party and he'll do what's best for the citizens of Valdosta," said Councilman Willie T. Head.
Four witnesses were called Wednesday, City Election Superintendent Mark Barber, Deborah Cox and John Adams of the Lowndes County Board of Elections, and Linda Beazley of the Secretary of State's office. Beazley says all votes for Rainwater should be null and void. "There will be signs posted at the precincts letting voters know that if the deceased candidate's name remains on the ballot, all votes for him will not be counted," said Beazley.
Other members of the Board of Elections agree, and say Rainwater no longer meets the criteria for a legal candidate. "He's not a citizen of Valdosta, no longer a registered voter, and can not fulfill the duties as mayor," said John Adams.
Attorney George Talley is representing the city and says the state law is unclear about what to do if a candidate dies in a nonpartisan election. He believes Rainwater is still a legal candidate, and the public has the right have their vote counted for whoever they want.
City Councilman Willie T. Head voted against taking the case to court and says the election should continue with the two remaining candidates, John Fretti and Benny Mitcham. "After hearing the evidence, my position is unchanged," said Head. "We are all saddened by the loss of Mayor Rainwater, but now we have to move on and decide between these two candidates."
Judge Bishop expects to reach his decision by late Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.