Selma, Ala.'s First Black Mayor Re-elected

James Perkins (search), who became Selma's first black mayor four years ago, was re-elected Tuesday, holding off three challengers who had questioned whether he did enough to unify blacks and whites.

In unofficial vote totals, which did not include absentee ballots, Perkins had 4,215 votes, or 57 percent, to 1,729 votes, or 24 percent, for his closest challenger, state Rep. Yusuf Salaam (search).

The absentee ballots, which were still being counted Tuesday night, were not expected to change the outcome of the race. Businessman Gene Hisel, the only white candidate, received 1,267 votes, or 17 percent. The final challenger, a radio station owner and former auto worker, trailed far behind.

When it became apparent that Perkins had won re-election, an impromptu parade broke out in downtown Selma with Perkins supporters blowing car horns and shouting victory chants.

"The people really got the message. They heard about the progress we've made," Perkins said. "I think the voters saw the inconsistencies in what people were saying about me."

Perkins had said a victory in his bid for a second term would be as significant as his 2000 election, when he defeated former segregationist Joe Smitherman, who had been mayor since voting rights marchers were beaten at Selma in 1965.

The political climate in Selma was much quieter this year than in the days leading up to the 2000 vote, when sign-carrying protesters were often seen downtown chanting "Joe must go."

Much of the debate four years ago centered on the history of racial discrimination in Selma, a city of 20,000 that is about 70 percent black.

This time, the challengers said, Perkins' four years in the mayor's office were marred by conflicts with the City Council and the police department, and an inability to bring racial harmony to the city.

"I think the current leadership has illustrated a woeful ability to bring the diverse community forces together. Consequently the city is more polarized than ever," said Salaam, a former president pro tem of the City Council who campaigned heavily for white votes.

Perkins defended his record, citing new jobs and a summit meeting held to bring whites and blacks together. But he said the racial problems of Selma and the rest of America cannot be solved in four years.

"I am careful not to allow Selma to carry the burden of racism for America any longer," Perkins had said. "We are no different from the rest of America."