Sam Hanna Jr.

The outcome of the mayor’s race in Monroe over the weekend was a shocker.

Businessman Friday Ellis, a white Independent, pulled off the unthinkable when he defeated Mayor Jamie Mayo, a black Democrat who has served since 2001.

Ellis didn’t just win the race. He won it going away with 52 percent of the vote to Mayo’s 38 percent. Two other minor candidates pieced together the remaining 10 percent in an election that saw roughly 41 percent of Monroe’s registered voters turn out to cast ballots.

A 41 percent turnout for a Monroe mayoral election was significant, but buried in the overall voter turnout was the real story.

For those who are not familiar with northeastern Louisiana’s largest municipality, Monroe is roughly 63 percent black, and it’s split between two different worlds. There’s the predominately black southside and there’s the predominately white northside. There are five City Council districts. Districts one and two include the northside, while districts three through five represent the southside.

Voter turnout in the two white districts topped 50 percent and 40 percent respectively, but on the other side of town it was a different story. Turnout in the majority minority districts was abysmal. Only in District 5 did turnout top 30 percent. Furthermore, a host of black voters — roughly 25 percent citywide — abandoned Mayo to vote for Ellis.

Ellis ran as good a campaign that any candidate for mayor of Monroe could have possibly conducted. He stuck to the issues and hammered away with a positive message centered on taking Monroe in a different direction. He represented a breath of fresh air, and he was believable. More importantly, Ellis refused to take Mayo’s bait and allow the election to turn into a referendum on the races.

Mayo had always enjoyed significant support among Monroe’s white voters, but that changed forever roughly three years ago when Mayo gave Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, an avowed racist and an anti-Semite, a key to the city of Monroe for a second time. Even Monroe’s white liberals — many of them anyway — washed their hands of Mayo from that point forward. And it cost him at the ballot box this past Saturday.

Mayo can look no further than a mirror to determine why his support on the southside of Monroe was a shell of its former self on election day. Crime and widespread flooding during heavy rains have become the norm in south Monroe, and judging by the outcome of the election, the voters have had enough. No one wishes to live in a neighborhood where simply walking down a street is considered dangerous. No one wishes to live a neighborhood where there’s a threat of flooding in the midst of a three-inch rain.

Make no mistake. Ellis is on a short leash. He’s got three years to do something big and bold, particularly on the southside of Monroe where voters showed us they’re willing to give anyone a chance to make a difference in their lives. Clamping down on Monroe’s criminal element is a must. Improving drainage is a close second.

In north Monroe, economic development, or the lack thereof, is the No. 1 issue. Ellis must hire a top-shelf economic development director whose sole job would entail convincing businesses to at least consider investing their capital in a city that’s desperate for a win.

Monroe’s citizens have handed Ellis an opportunity. It’s now up to him to do something with it. The ball is in his court.

Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at samhannajr@samhannajr.com.

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