Riley is next governor

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 20, 2002

MONTGOMERY

The dispute over who will be Alabama's next governor has been decided. True it lasted 13 days longer than planned

but with an emotional concession speech Monday night, Gov. Don Siegelman congratulated U.S. Rep. Bob Riley and stepped aside.

"I cannot be a part of a process that would hurt Alabama," Siegelman said in his speech, referring to an expected drawn out legal battle. "This has been the most painful decision of my life. To my staff, I feel like I am letting you down and letting my supporters down."

On election night, Siegelman declared victory over Riley based on initial returns from around the state. At the time he declared victory, statewide numbers showed him with a 3,000-plus-vote lead. Just hours later, after a "glitch" had been found in voting totals in Baldwin County, Riley assumed the lead

a lead of more than 3,000 votes. Last Friday, Secretary of State Jim Bennett certified the statewide totals, again leaving Riley with a lead of 3,117 votes.

Siegelman, even while conceding still contended voting irregularities across the state would have likely given him the election, but in the end did not want to lead the state through a legal battle that many expected would last months.

"This has been a hard-fought election," Riley said moments later from his transition headquarters in Hoover. "This has been hard-fought on both sides. It is now time for Alabama

all of Alabama

to come together."

Riley said he had not expected Siegelman's concession and mentioned his only regret was that his wife, Patsy, could not be at the headquarters for the special moment. His wife had returned to the family home in Ashland.

"This was unexpected," Riley said. "I received a phone call from the governor just a few moments ago. I want to thank him for his gracious comments."

Riley used the short victory speech to begin the process of mending a divided state

a state in which the voting public did not give a majority to either candidate.

"If you voted for me, my opponent or did not vote at all in this election, join with us in our vision of Alabama," Riley said. "Join with us in fighting for what's best for Alabama."

Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon said the concession didn't surprise him.

"It did surprise me that it was on TV at 6 p.m. last night, and I hadn't heard anything about it," McLendon said. "But I feel Siegelman did the right thing. It was the best thing for Alabama, for its citizens and the best thing for Siegelman's political future."

McLendon said he is excited at the prospect of working with Riley and his administration, especially with the Hyundai suppliers looking at Greenville.

"You can be sure we will be in contact with him. I only met Riley once when he came to Greenville, but he told me that he wanted to have lunch with me to discuss some ideas he had on economic development."

McLendon said he thought the impact of Riley's taking office is on Greenville residents' minds.

"It's definitely on my mind," he said. "The head of the Alabama Development Office Todd Strange has done a great job, so I hope Riley will keep him there. He's been a Republican most of his life, but Riley may have some other things in mind. Todd is a friend of mine, of Greenville's, of this county and of this state. We need to make sure that Riley and his officials know how badly this town needs jobs. You can be sure that today or tomorrow I will be writing or emailing Riley and inviting him to lunch."