Georgia had its “two governors” controversy back in 1947 after the governor-elect, Eugene Talmadge, died just weeks before his inauguration.
Actually, three would-be governors were involved in the embarrassing spat. Talmadge’s son, Herman Talmadge, claimed the office, as did M.E. Thompson, who was lieutenant governor-elect, and the outgoing governor, Ellis Arnall. Of course, Herman won in the end.
North Georgia in 1960 had its own two-mayor controversy, actually two of them going on at the same time.
In Cleveland, Allen Mauney Jr. was the only candidate on the ballot in the December 1959 mayor’s election. But outgoing mayor L.R. Cooper, manager of the Talon, Inc., zipper plant, received a majority of write-in votes. He had 103 write-ins to Mauney’s 96 regular votes.
Because Cooper’s name wasn’t on the ballot, Mauney actually was sworn in as mayor in January 1960. Eventually, however, a new election was called, this time with Cooper officially running, and Mauney put his name on the special ballot, too.
This two-mayor brouhaha caused quite a stir in White County. By the time the special election came around in February, 91 percent of voters cast ballots. There was so much interest a bed-ridden woman ordered an ambulance to take her to the polls. She voted from a stretcher in the voting place.
Cooper ended up winning 199 to Mauney’s 137. Supporters burned Mayor Cooper’s hat as the results were announced, a tradition for winners in that community, as well as others across North Georgia at that time.
Meanwhile, just a few miles east, the little town of Alto had its own two-mayor controversy.
M.W. Nicholson tied with incumbent Mayor W.B. Webb, each with 21 votes. Webb’s was the only mayoral candidate’s name on the ballot, however, as Nicholson’s votes were write-ins. The Alto Council decided to seat Webb as mayor.
Nicholson vowed he would “call the law” to stop Webb from taking office if necessary. But he never did.
Legal wrangling ensued, and the council decided to start over with another election. It didn’t settle much as Nicholson and Webb tied again. This time, there was much more interest as each polled 65 votes.
Stumped as what to do, three members of the city council got together around a coal heater during this snowy January and decided to call an election Feb. 10. Later, however, the full council met and voided that election, saying it should be called by more than three members. They set a later date that month.
In the final special election, neither Nicholson nor Webb won because they decided to let somebody else have it. Neither name was on the ballot, and T.M. Martin defeated Grover Stewart 63-39 for mayor of Alto.
All of this for what was the going pay for Alto mayor at the time: $3 a month. Council members earned only $2 a month.
Meanwhile, there was no controversy for Gainesville mayor. Fellow city commissioners elected Milton Hardy to preside in 1960-61. Instead of by popular vote, mayors of Gainesville are chosen by fellow council members. However, present Mayor Danny Dunagan will be the last to serve that way because mayors henceforth will run citywide for election.
Despite the Cuban missile crisis and school desegregation controversies, the early 1960s were the “good ole days” in some respects. Instead of a state government fund deficit, Georgia had a $55 million surplus.
Yet politicians were talking about closing schools because of federal desegregation orders. Gov. Ernest Vandiver declared “no, not one” black child would attend white schools, but eventually, of course, relented.
President Dwight Eisenhower, meanwhile, forecast a $4.2 trillion surplus in the federal budget. That was the last year in Ike’s two-term presidency.
Gov. Vandiver started his political career as a mayor of Lavonia in 1946. He also supported Eugene Talmadge for governor that year, then Herman Talmadge after Gene died before taking office.
Talmadge appointed him state adjutant general; Vandiver then succeeded Marvin Griffin as lieutenant governor and later succeeded him as governor. People close to Gov. Vandiver could call him “Ernie.” Residents of Lavonia nicknamed him “Booney,” for some reason.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.