In a recent instance of bipartisan consensus, the leaders of the Aiken County Democratic and Republican parties agreed: The filing period at the beginning of the month “was quiet.”
For seven days beginning July 5, aspiring candidates could have contacted either Harold Crawford Jr., the Democratic chairman, or Debbie Epling, the GOP chairwoman, and filled out paperwork to begin their quest for a spot on the Aiken City Council. But the phones barely rang. Few were interested.
“I was, generally, there every day,” Epling said of time spent at the Republican Party headquarters along Greenville Street S.W. “I only had the three calls about it.”
Four seats on City Council are up for grabs in November: Districts 2, 4, 5 and 6, together stretching from the city’s northernmost tip to its southernmost tail. A total of four people – one from each district, a quartet of incumbents – filed during the weeklong window.
Democrat Lessie Price and Republicans Ed Girardeau, Andrea Gregory and Ed Woltz are now running uncontested. There will be no primary elections – there is no formal competition – and a general-election win for each candidate-cum-councilor, months away, is all but guaranteed. Facebook screeds, it seems, do not translate to political activism; combative City Council hearings, similarly, do not ensure a combative election season. And while write-in candidates are an option, such campaigns rarely succeed.
“What I’m seeing are seats that are held by an incumbent are not generally looked upon as easily challengeable,” Crawford said in an interview. He continued: “I think you need to choose your battles wisely. ‘Who do I want to challenge in this particular cycle, and why?’”
Exactly why no one is running against the incumbents is unclear. Was it complacency? Apathy? No, according to Epling, who knew of people interested in running but failed to pull the trigger.
“People are upset with a lot of things since November 2020, and in a lot of ways they want to see change,” the GOP chairwoman said. “But it’s the devil you know versus the devil you don’t.”
Was it satisfaction, then? Districts-wide contentedness with current representation? Yes, to some degree, Crawford and Epling suggested. But what of exhaustion, bureaucratic burnout? For some, months of coronavirus chaos, social isolation, smashmouth partisanship, ratcheting polarization, and congressional gridlock is a tiring brew.
“There are so many things going on with people: trying to recover from losses of family members, people trying to get their budget together, people working with their children,” some of whom might have fallen behind in school, Price said Friday. “There are so many factors to be considered. When you take on the charge of running for public office, there are many sacrifices you make in your life. You have to consider family, and that is significant.”
Woltz suggested a lack of challengers across the board is a vote of confidence and a sign things are headed in the right direction.
“I take it that we’re doing the best we can, and people are recognizing it,” he said. “I think this, not being challenged, has put more pressure on me to do a better job, because people are saying, ‘We’re trusting you.’”
“Obviously, we’d like to believe that everybody agrees with what we’re doing and thinks we’re doing a great job, and I think this is reflective of that, to some degree,” Girardeau said Saturday.
There are, of course, other things at play: “People don’t want to be bothered,” Girardeau said.
City Council is organized under a 6-1 single-member-district plan; only the mayor is elected citywide.
The general election is set for Nov. 2.