Some of Hall County's longest tenured public officials and new challengers lost elections this past week. Among them are Mordecai Wilson, one of the oldest city council members in the state, Larry Poole, who has served in Gillsville for nearly 30 years, and Devin Pandy, who gained a national following after a bid for Congress in 2020.
Now, these local politicians must determine what comes next in their lives without a seat in their local office.
One of Georgia’s oldest city council members, Wilson, 96, was ousted by newcomer Gene Bramlett, who has no previous political experience.
All three incumbent city council members lost their races in Lula, including Mayor Jim Grier and Councilman Marvin Moore. And all three challengers advocated for increased communication and transparency between the city and its residents. But Wilson, who served on the council for 20 years, said voters were led astray by these “glossy” notions.
“I don’t feel bitter about things,” Wilson said during an interview in his home in Lula. “I am old enough; I have experience enough to understand what is going on and how easily people can be persuaded into things that are not really good for them.”
The World War II veteran said he was worried progress in the city might be held up with new council members who only recently became involved in city issues.
“Even the ones coming in have admitted they know nothing about what has happened,” Wilson said. “I’ve been on there 20 years, and I hate to see the people being misled.”
Wilson has devoted most of his life to public service. He and his wife operated group homes for teens with mental problems in Boston in the 1970s and 1980s. He received commendation from U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, praising the Wilsons for playing a “vital role in the lives of men and women who are in great need of a warm and supportive environment.” He also received a letter from President George H. W. Bush, who praised his philanthropic efforts.
Wilson still plans on attending council meetings and meeting the incoming council members.
The city is still in good hands with longtime city manager Dennis Bergin, Wilson said.
“I feel proud and glad that I was able to do this,” Wilson said of his time on the council.
“My plan is to rest.”
U.S. Army veteran Pandy has been through two election campaigns in two years, first challenging U.S. Rep. Clyde, R-Athens, on the national stage and most recently challenging Gainesville City Council veteran Sam Couvillon for mayor.
He lost both races soundly, and while he hasn’t ruled out another bid for public office, Pandy said he’s looking forward to some time off.
In the past month, Pandy got married and bought a house in Gainesville. For now, he’s focused on volunteering and working with organizations and communities he is passionate about, he said. He intends to work with homeless people in the city and volunteer with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“I’m still going to be involved and civically engaged and definitely holding Sam (Couvillon) to the promises that he made,” he said.
Pandy advocated for more ambitious transportation and affordable housing plans during his campaign, saying the city should do more for all areas of Gainesville while downtown has seen the most significant growth in recent months.
“I’m very happy that Sam (Couvillon) and I were able to discuss certain issues going on in Gainesville,” Pandy said. “Whether or not those issues keep Sam (Couvillon’s) attention, at least we know now he is aware of them and we can hold him accountable to some of those things.”
Another campaign is not in his immediate plans, but he said he hasn’t ruled out another bid for public office. “I do not aspire to office simply for the sake of holding office,” he said. “My end goal, no matter what I do, is always to improve the quality of life for others.”
Poole, mayor of Gillsville for 24 years and then a Post 1 city council member since 2017, lost to Post 2 incumbent councilman Jeff Perry on Tuesday night in a race for that seat.
Poole, who was born in Gillsville, didn’t spend any money campaigning in the small town, he said, and hoped his reputation would carry him.
Some on the council want to be more progressive, Poole said. “I’m not anti-progress, I’m just anti-bad progress,” he said.
“I’m a very fiscally conservative person,” he said. “I felt like any time projects came up that amounted to any significant amount of money … we needed to thoroughly consider the expenditures of city funds, because they’re precious to the whole town.”
His goals on the council were to maintain Gillsville largely as is, he said. During his time, the city was able to get funding for Gillsville City Park and improve the city’s downtown, he said, though there are still traffic problems. The city finished a streetscaping project in 2017 that added a brick pedestrian plaza, sidewalks and decorative street lights.
Poole said he wants to see the council take a strong stance against large developments that could be proposed in the city.
“I’m thankful to the people for putting their confidence in me all those years,” Poole said. “I wouldn’t take anything for those years.”