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Mayor Asks Judge To Order City Council To Certify Election Results

August 26, 1988

SELMA, Ala. (AP) _ Mayor Joe Smitherman, accused by blacks of being a ″dictator″ after his apparent re-election to an unprecedented seventh term, has sued the council in this civil rights landmark city for failing to certify his victory.

Smitherman asked Dallas County Circuit Judge Charles Thigpen on Thursday to order the council to certify the election so candidates for seven contested council seats can begin campaigning.

The judge scheduled a Monday hearing on the suit.

The controversy over the mayor’s race erupted Wednesday when the council’s three black members - including Cleophus Mann, who is seeking to become Selma’s first black mayor - voted against certifying Tuesday’s election results, which appeared to return Smitherman to office without a runoff. The three white council members voted for certification.

″We might as well have been in Panama,″ said Mann. ″We sit around and let a dictator run things.″

After the meeting, Mann almost came to blows with city attorney Henry Pitts. One of Mann’s campaign aides and another man were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct.

Attorney J.L. Chestnut, who represents two of the three black council members, said he doubts Thigpen has the authority to force elected officials to certify the election.

″This is a racially polarized city,″ Chestnut said of the community of 27,000. ″There is absolutely no sentiment in black Selma to certify any election.″

″This is one of the worst incidents I’ve seen since 1964,″ said Smitherman, referring to the start of civil rights protests that marked his first year as mayor.

On March 7, 1965, several hundred civil rights activists began a 50-mile voting rights march to Montgomery. State troopers and sheriff’s deputies, acting under orders from Gov. George Wallace, beat marchers as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Television film of the beatings shocked the nation.

Unofficial city results showed Smitherman defeating Mann by 3,752 votes to 2,769. A third candidate, Coy Darby, had 453 votes.

If the results are upheld, Smitherman would not face a runoff because he received more than half the vote.

A second council meeting held Wednesday afternoon was boycotted by the three black members. Without a quorum, no action could be taken.

Beverly Mitchell, a Mann aide, said Mann heard of numerous irregularities in the election, including a predominantly black precinct where polls opened 20 minutes late and had no official poll workers for hours.

Also, she claimed, city officials posted voter rolls only 10 days before the election while the requirement is 30 days. Ms. Mitchell said Police Chief Melvin Summerlin intimidated people by showing up at several polling places and asking workers ″if they knew what they were doing.″

Smitherman, a one-time segregationist, defeated another black challenger in 1984 and took about 20 percent of the black vote. At the 20th anniversary of the 1965 voting rights march, Smitherman joined black leaders at the observance and, at one point, shared a hymnal with Jesse Jackson and joined him in singing ″The Battle Hymn of the Republic.″

A policeman was stationed in front of Smitherman’s office and extra patrols were scheduled for his residence after Wednesday’s confrontations.

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