Macon officials already exploring 2020 run for mayor

Robert Reichert’s 13-year run as Macon’s mayor will come to an end on Dec. 31, 2020.

Even though there’re more than two years before the next mayoral election, at least two elected officials are already gearing up for a potential run. So what would make someone decide to start so early for a local election?

There are benefits and potential drawbacks, including voter fatigue, for candidates who have their names out at this time, one political expert says.

Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Larry Schlesinger and Bibb County school board President Lester Miller have filed paperwork to begin raising funds for a mayoral bid. The election will be held in May 2020.

Cathy Cox, dean of Mercer University’s law school, says it makes some sense to begin exploring two years in advance, since Reichert has been entrenched as mayor for such a long time.

The Macon-Bibb mayor is limited to two consecutive terms under the consolidation charter, meaning that Reichert will not be able to run again in 2020. That could open up the field to what might be a large group of candidates.

“When everyone knows the incumbent … does not have the option to run again and it’s going to be a wide open seat, I think it’s a natural progression for interested candidates” to begin their mayoral campaigns earlier than usual, said Cox, a former Georgia secretary of state.

One upside could be that those candidates begin generating support from influential community groups or leaders that could help earn them votes down the road. But there’s also the chance that if someone is already a government official, then any vote or decision they make leading up to the election could draw more scrutiny, Cox said.

“It can sometimes be harmful for the person who puts themselves out there so early,” Cox said. “Everything they do for the next two years will be cast in a political light.”

She added, “That’s somewhat of a hard spotlight to live under two years. Some candidates would rather stay under the radar until much closer to election time.”

Miller, whose second term on the school board ends at the same time as Reichert’s tenure, said he’s well aware of the pros and cons of announcing as early as he did.

“I think it’s important to begin the process so that I can reach out to entire community and hear their concerns and allow people to get to know me on a personal level,” he said.

Schlesinger said that since the mayoral race is countywide, it’s better to start sooner rather than later.

He established “Larry For Macon” this past fall and has since been focused on gauging the interest that residents have for him as a potential mayor. Schlesinger said he may try polling at some point, but for now the effort is in the embryonic stage.

“We’re two and a half years away from this election, but that’s not a lot of time,” said Schlesinger, who has served on either the Macon City Council or County Commission since 2007. “We want to gauge the support that’s out there and if it’s what we think it is, start putting building blocks in place.”

Miller said he understands there may be more second-guessing from some people about what he does during the next two years, but he said he’ll continue making what he believes are the right decisions while serving on the school board.

“I really think you have to be open and transparent and give people an opportunity to watch your actions.”