Republican Wendall Kessler was confident in his chances of winning his race against Democrat Franklin Goldwire for Effingham County Board of Commissioners chairman at-large, but he had no idea he’d carry 63 percent of the vote.
“It was very humbling,” Kessler said. “Really, I thought it would be a lot closer than that. Franklin is a very good man. He had a lot of influential people backing him.”
Goldwire thanked the community leaders who endorsed him, his family and friends, and all the voters who supported him. He credited Kessler with running a “friendly campaign.”
“I want to congratulate Mr. Kessler and wish him the best in his chairmanship. I think he will do a super job for the county,” Goldwire said.
After his convincing win with 12,669 votes to Goldwire’s 7,307, Kessler acknowledged, “Now I just have to live up to all those expectations.”
One key to that, Kessler said, will be to have “some peace and harmony” on the board of commissioners. Divisiveness among the commissioners has created controversy and hurt the public perception of the board, but Kessler said he is “very optimistic that we can work together.”
“A difference of opinion is what spurs on creativity, and it’s going to take some creativity with cutting budgets and still meeting what people’s wants and desires are for the county,” Kessler said.
He added that the board of commissioners will need to work with the Effingham Chamber of Commerce, Industrial Development Authority and other agencies to move the county forward. Kessler had said during his campaign that the county must “present a unified front” in order to get state and federal funding for necessary projects.
“There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle that have to come together,” he said. “I have no doubt that everybody who is elected or appointed to these boards has the best interests of Effingham County in their heart. I do not think anybody is self-serving. I do not think anybody has their own agenda other than what’s best for Effingham.”
A homebuilder in Effingham, Chatham and Bryan counties, Kessler questioned the approach the county has taken to attract commercial and industrial growth.
“We’ve done it bass-ackwards,” he said. “We’ve gone out and we’ve acquired property and condemned land and we’ve done all this, that, the other, and we don’t have roads and infrastructure to get to it.”
Kessler said the county will have to address its transportation needs, especially now that the Georgia Ports Authority has permission to deepen the Port of Savannah. The port expansion is expected to bring growth Effingham’s way.
“I really feel like we can make some deals with the port on some of the land that we’ve got. And in doing so, I think we can get funding for some of these roads,” he said.
While Kessler looks forward to being sworn in, Goldwire is undecided if he will run again for public office.
“I can’t say at this point whether I will or whether I won’t,” he said. “I just need to take some time to reflect on this one and make that decision sometime in the future.”
In the meantime, Goldwire said, he will continue to remain active in the community. A retired educator and military veteran, Goldwire is vice president of both the YMCA Board of Directors and Planters Telephone Cooperative Board of Directors, a member of the Effingham County Board of Equalization and City of Guyton’s Planning and Zoning Commission, a leadership coach for the Effingham County School District’s Aspiring Leadership Program, and a member of the Effingham Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Community Enrichment Scholarship Committee.
“There is so much to be involved in. Every opportunity I get to be involved, that’s what I plan to do,” he said. “As I said in my campaign, this county has been good to me and my family. I’m always looking for an opportunity to try to make a difference.”
Goldwire declined to speculate if people voting a straight Republican ticket contributed to his loss.
“I don’t want to read anything into it,” he said. “The campaign was a great experience. My family, my supporters and I enjoyed it, and that’s just the way I want to remember it.”