RINGGOLD, Ga. — Walking out of a back room where they had just learned the results of the Ringgold mayoral race, the two candidates, Nick Millwood and Tony Hullender, each locked eyes with their wives.
Hullender looked down and shook his head. Millwood walked over and hugged his wife for several seconds.
A few moments later, the results were announced: Nick Millwood won the runoff election and will become Ringgold mayor on Jan. 1.
"A heartfelt thank you. It's an honor," Millwood said afterward when asked if he had a message for his voters. He paused, trying to translate his emotions into words. "I'm just having a hard time processing anything, my goodness. Wow. Wow."
The 2015 Ringgold mayoral race was a controversial one.facebook
First, pro-wrestler Paul Lee was disqualified from running after it was determined his house was outside city limits, but not before he called the Catoosa County Court a "kangaroo court" and Millwood a "clown competitor."
Then, on the Nov. 3 election date, none of the three candidates — Hullender, Millwood and Jerry Payne — received more than 50 percent of the vote. Under the city's charter, if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff election. Hullender finished with 38.3 percent of the vote, Millwood had 37.5 percent and Payne had 24 percent.
Both Hullender and Millwood said after the elections results were announced last month they didn't know about the runoff rule. Hullender said he was upset at the time because he was under the impression if he had the most votes, which he did by three over Millwood, he would be the mayor-elect.
But Tuesday night, Hullender said he didn't harbor feelings of ill will. He wasn't upset about that anymore and praised his competitor, calling him a "good man."
"I just want to thank everybody who supported me," Hullender said. "I had a lot of help. I'm disappointed that I let the people down."
Millwood won by a considerable chuck of votes this time, beating Hullender by 42 votes. If it wasn't for the rule nobody knew about in November, Hullender would be the mayor-elect. But Millwood was given another chance, and he took advantage of it.
"Every evening I went and talked to people. From the last election to this election, I went every evening and talked to people," he said. "I was not going to lose because I was outworked."
When Millwood takes office, it'll be the first time in 40 years Ringgold Mayor Joe Barger has not held the title. Barger, 85, decided to sit out this election. Dec. 31 will be his last day in office.
So, when he learned he would be mayor, what was going through Millwood's head?
"Joy and responsibility. And happiness," he said. Then his wife walked over and squealed, throwing her arms around her husband in another happy embrace, and Millwood kissed her on the cheek.
"Oh, sorry," she said. "Are you recording this?"
Contact staff writer Evan Hoopfer at firstname.lastname@example.org or @EvanHoopfer on Twitter or 423-757-6731.