TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama mayor who had been re-elected in 2011 despite a federal conviction and recently was recovering from an assault lost a bid for a fifth term in office Tuesday.
Talladega Mayor Larry Barton faced challenges from opponents Vann Caldwell and Jerry Cooper Sr. in the city's mayoral race — a campaign run in the shadow of Barton's record and more recently a scandal involving allegations of illicit sex.
Cooper won with 2,000 votes, Barton got 1,037 votes and Caldwell got 197 votes, City Manager Patrick Bryant said. He added the tally was the final count for the city of roughly 16,000, which is known for hosting major auto racing events.
"I feel good; we're at ease with everything. When you stay in office that long you're gonna make folks mad," Barton said Tuesday night. "They wanted change and I respect that."
A message left for Cooper wasn't immediately returned.
Barton served about three years in prison in the 1990s after being convicted of defrauding the city. Prosecutors said he had city officials issue checks to a fictitious worker and cashed them himself.
On Aug. 8, Barton was assaulted about 55 miles west of Talladega outside a barbershop where he works part-time in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills.
Some voters said they had expected Barton's appeal, accessibility and charitable reputation to help him find his way back to the mayor's office despite his past as other politicians have done — including former Providence, Rhode Island, Mayor Buddy Cianci and former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry.
The former mayor prided himself on the fact that many Talladega residents had his cellphone number and knew they could call him directly for help.
"I doze but never close," Barton said with a smile Tuesday afternoon.
Barton was beaten up more than two weeks ago amid claims from attorney Stewart Springer that Barton was secretly recorded having an affair with the wife of the beating suspect, Benny Green.
Springer said he had represented Green — Barton's former friend — in his divorce case, and Springer said he saw the videos himself. Divorce court records said the encounters were recorded in the rear office of a liquor store the Greens own.
In an interview, Barton acknowledged keeping an office in the store and serving as its bookkeeper, but denied the sexual allegation. Court records said the videos were recorded in December 2013 and presented in February. Barton said the timing of the attack suggested it may have been a smear tactic ahead of the city's election.
Police said Green, 71, is accused of hitting Barton, 75, with a bat and trying to flee the scene on a bicycle. He was charged with assault. A voice message and email to an attorney listed for him in court documents wasn't immediately returned.
Amid the political campaign signs dotting the well-kept yards in Talladega's quiet, tree-lined neighborhoods, Barton and his wife, Mary, drove up to a voting precinct Tuesday afternoon with their own signs that simply read "BARTON" in red letters on both sides of their car. Barton, who appeared to be recovering from multiple bruises and cuts, walked alongside his wife and greeted voters as they trickled into the recreation center to vote.
Barton ran for mayor several times after his federal prison sentence and lost runoffs before he was re-elected in 2011. Some who spoke briefly and traded jokes with Barton before walking up the steps to cast ballots later said they didn't vote for him. They declined to give their names or be interviewed.
As he left the polling place, Daniel Dase said Barton's federal conviction and accusations of being caught on tape in a compromising situation left the city with a black eye of its own. Some residents said the city needs to clean up its reputation in hopes of attracting more economic development besides the racetrack.
"I think Talladega has an image problem right now and that's one thing we have to combat," Dase said. "And then, we've been hurt a lot with industry over the last 10, 15 years, and you know, Talladega has to change. We need everything we can to put forth our best image and present ourselves and draw things in."