Montgomery County Commissioner Dimitri Polizos overcame criticism from his opponent about his conservatism and alleged flip-flopping on issues to comfortably win a Tuesday runoff to claim a one-year stint in the Alabama House of Representatives.
Polizos, also owner of Mr. G’s Ristorante at Atlanta Highway and Bell Road, defeated fellow Republican Charlotte Meadows 57 percent to 43 percent on Tuesday to win the House District 74 seat. He will finish out the term of former Rep. Jay Love, who resigned in August with more than a year left in his term.
The term ends with the November 2014 election.
“As Jackie Gleason said, how sweet it is,” Polizos told a cheering group of supporters at Mr. G’s Ristorante. “This night is very special, because not only did we achieve victory, we achieved it with dignity.”
The candidate was well-known to constituents after operating multiple restaurants in the city and being elected to his central Montgomery commission seat three times. He ran on his record as a small businessman and as a fiscal conservative on the county commission. Polizos has vowed to be a common-sense fiscal conservative in the Legislature.
His win on Tuesday completes a strong run for the candidate. He claimed 46 percent of the vote in the Oct. 8 primary against Meadows and school board vice president Heather Sellers, but needed a majority of the vote to avoid a runoff.
Meadows said, in her concession call, told Polizos she would do what she could to support him.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Meadows said. “We felt like the momentum was moving in our direction and we just didn’t get there tonight.”
Polizos said at Mr. G’s that he would try to get up to speed with as many aspects of legislative life as possible. He said there were certain Montgomery issues that he wanted to address in the Legislature, though he declined to discuss them Monday evening.
“I’m not going to go down there trying to change things immediately,” Polizos said. “There’s a lot to be done, and we’re going to slowly work our way up.”
Meadows pushed hard between the primary and Tuesday runoff to separate herself from Polizos on the issues and then, when he clarified his stance, accused him of changing his position.
Polizos said leading up to the October primary that he opposed the Alabama Accountability Act and the Rolling Reserve Budget Act and supported expanded home rule, which gives county government more authority to tax and make other decisions without approval of the Legislature.
She questioned whether his views on those were conservative.
After the primary, Polizos sent out a mail piece and sent a signed contract to some Montgomery insiders outlining his support of the Accountability Act and the Rolling Reserve and his opposition to home rule, which he said allows county commissions to raise taxes on citizens.
Polizos accused Meadows of “reaching for things” as she criticized him on those issues.
Meadows also had to battle the Alabama Education Association, which spent tens of thousands for mail pieces, recorded phone messages and advertising attacking her for her support of the Accountability Act and charter schools, and for her time as president of the Montgomery County Board of Education.
Meadows said Polizos had “very positive name recognition,” is a “nice guy,” and a “lot of people know him,” but when asked said the attack ads did not help.
“There were some people who believed what the attack ads said,” she said. Meadows said some of the claims “were just wrong” and were “slams on my character” attacking the work she did for children in the community and for the city.
The race proved unusually expensive for a special election in an off-year. Meadows started with a large fundraising advantage, due mainly to a $100,000 personal loan to the campaign, but saw that evaporate as she was forced to answer the AEA attacks. Meadows’ funds fell below $3,000 at one point last week, but were boosted in the final days by a $20,000 contribution from StudentsFirst, an education reform group founded by former Washington DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, which opposes teacher tenure and supports charter schools. Meadows until recently worked as outreach director for the organization’s Alabama chapter.
Polizos was generally behind when it came to fundraising, but benefitted from an Alabama Farmers’ Federation endorsement in September. The organization put $8,000 into his campaign, and also conducted polling on his behalf. Polizos also made a personal loan of $10,000 to his campaign.
Campaign finance records show that the AEA bought about $23,000 in advertising on WSFA, WAKA and WNCF since early October. Meadows purchased about $16,000 in ads on the stations. Although Polizos also had television ads, campaign finance records did not show any direct buys by his campaign.
With no Democrat in the race, Polizos will join fellow lawmakers when they go into session in January. The district will shift east with the 2014 primary next June, due to redistricting. Polizos plans to run again for the race; Meadows said Tuesday she had not made a decision about another run.
– posted by Sebastian Kitchen and Brian Lyman (updated at 8:19 and 9:01 p.m.)