Challengers emerge in Daphne mayoral race


As qualifying for municipal election candidates comes to a close this week, three candidates have emerged to challenge incumbent mayor Dane Haygood in Daphne in the Aug. 23 city election.

Longtime City Councilman John Lake, businessman Tim Swanson and newspaper publisher Ben Cruitt are challenging Haygood for the job of leading one of the fastest growing cities in Baldwin County for the next four years.

Lake has represented District 3 on the council for 24 years and has considered running for mayor several times before, but never felt he could do a better job than the other candidates. This year, however, Lake said he is confident he is more qualified and knowledgeable than others in the race.

“I know I am the right person for the job this time,” Lake said. “I’m a certified municipal official with emeritus status, one of only three in the state, and I know the laws about what the mayor’s duties are and are not. I am confident I can lead the city effectively and efficiently and spend the taxpayers’ money wisely.”

Lake said if elected his administration would be transparent and accountable. He also said he will foster the growth of citizens’ committees, listening to the advice of citizens’ groups such as the Daphne Beautification Committee and others.

“There won’t be any backroom deals,” he said. “If the city is doing something, the people will know about it.”

Swanson ran for mayor in 2012 but believes he lost the race because he had only lived in the city a few years and did not have widespread name recognition. This time, he said, people know who he is because he has been around city government for some time.

Swanson said he has 30 years of experience as a management consultant for Fortune 500 companies and a wide array of other experience in the corporate world. He believes this corporate experience will benefit him in Daphne city government, where he said the city lacks a long-term vision.

“When you look at the backgrounds of who is on the City Council, none of them have corporate experience working with Fortune 500 companies,” Swanson said. “It is important that someone in city government have a deep understanding of high-level business in the corporate world. You need someone like that in leadership when big decisions come up.”

Swanson’s platform includes elimination of the city’s 2 percent grocery tax, rebuilding the relationship between the mayor’s office and City Council, engaging city officials without micromanagement and instilling a code of ethics for city officials to follow.

Elimination of the city’s 2 percent sales tax on groceries is one of Swanson’s biggest priorities. Daphne residents currently pay a total of 9 percent in sales tax on groceries, with 4 percent going to the state, 3 percent to Baldwin County and 2 percent to the city.

“When you look at cities, counties, states and countries that reduce taxes, you almost always see unbelievable growth,” Swanson said. “The grocery sales tax is a regressive tax that hurts families the most. We need to help those families instead of hurting them.”

Lake said eliminating the grocery sales tax sounds like a good idea but the city would not be able to do so without a constitutional act by the Legislature. He called the idea a “dead horse” and said it would likely never happen.

“Almost all the power the city has is given to it by the Legislature,” Lake said. “If we want to do things like that we have to get their approval, and I don’t see that happening.”

Cruitt, the former publisher of the Baldwin County Press, said he has attended “hundreds of city meetings” over the years and feels it is the right time to run for office. Baldwin County probate records also show Cruitt launched an unsuccessful election bid for Baldwin County Commission in 2002.

“I’ve been in the newspaper business for about 17 years and been to hundreds of city meetings,” Cruitt said. “When it looked like the right time I decided to throw my hat in the ring.”

Although he has been in office since 2013, this will be Haygood’s first run for mayor. After winning the race for the District 7 seat on the Daphne City Council in 2012, Haygood was appointed mayor in early 2013 following the death of then-mayor Bailey Yelding.

In a previous interview with Lagniappe, Haygood said he has enjoyed his time as mayor and has “unfinished business” he would like to see through another four-year term. Haygood also said he wants to be there when the city finishes its long-term goal of extending sewer service to everyone in the city as well as the citywide recreation upgrades.

Meanwhile all seven Daphne City Council seats will be on the ballot in August with just two incumbents, Tommie Conaway in District 1 and Angie Phillips in District 7, running unopposed.

In District 2, incumbent Pat Rudicell faces a challenge from Larry Chason and Thomas M. Walker. In District 3, Lake’s former seat, D. Joel Coleman faces Harold D. Johnson. District 4 incumbent Randy Fry faces a challenge from Sean Gibbs and Doug Goodlin. In District 5, Phillip Ellis is challenging incumbent Ron Scott, while Craig Rhodes is challenging District 6 incumbent Robin LeJeune.

UPDATE: Qualifying for the Aug. 23 municipal elections ended at 5 p.m. July 19, a few hours after Lagniappe’s print deadline. After Lagniappe’s print deadline, Willie Williams qualified to challenge Tommie Conaway in District 1, Joe Davis qualified to run in District 7 and Clay Covert qualified to run in District 2. Also after Lagniappe’s print deadline, District 7 incumbent Angie Phillips withdrew from the race.