BY JAMES HARPER
Despite being outspent by his opponent and some local “good old boys” being against him, Derrick Henry made history on Tuesday in his race for Daytona Beach mayor.
Henry, who received a cross section of votes from Black and White residents, said he never lost faith that he would be elected Daytona Beach’s first Black male mayor. Nearly 25,000 residents voted in the spirited contest.
A Democrat, Henry defeated Daytona Beach Zone 1 Commissioner Edith Shelley, a Republican, in the non-partisan race. The race was 55 percent for Henry and 44 percent for Shelley even though she amassed a war chest amounting to $93,000 from donors ranging from the International Speedway Corporation, hotel owners and Republican-elected officials, including Mayor Glenn Ritchey and his different business enterprises.
Henry becomes the second Black mayor of Daytona Beach. Yvonne Scarlett Golden, who died in 2006, was elected mayor in 2003 and was re-elected in 2005 after serving for several years on the city commission.
A clean slate
“We have extended an olive branch to one another,” Henry told the Daytona Times on Wednesday about Shelley, adding that anyone who may have been against him now has a “clean slate.’’
Henry had raised about $52,000 from mostly small donors, and says it wasn’t the money that won him the race. He attributes it to the one-on-one contacts he had with prospective supporters he met while working every day for the position – sometimes eight to 10 hours after he left his full time job.
“I never thought I would win by that percentage. I never stopped working. I thought it would be razor thin,” Henry said.
Henry, who served as a Zone 5 city commissioner from 2008 to 2010, said that during his four years as mayor he hopes to take the position in a different direction.
Past mayors and commissioners dissuaded certain types of visitors to the area. Henry said he would like to see a return to encouraging spring breakers, college students, young visitors and not just focus on attracting families to the area.
“I am also going to do whatever is necessary to make African-Americans feel welcome in the city and that includes the students,” he said referring to thousands who used to come to the city for what was called Black College Reunion in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“If someone wants to promote events geared to Black students and spring break events, I want to help create an environment to make it happen,” he continued.
“My point is it is not my job to set the agenda to say who comes to the city. We should be big enough to welcome everyone,” he said.
Henry also noted that the core of the city has often been unappreciated and neglected.
“I expect to see things happen differently around Bethune-Cookman University,” Henry noted, saying he will still be supportive of projects like the E-Zone and the Midtown Redevelopment Area Board’s master plan.
“I am not throwing out things that made us successful,” he said.
Lots of support
Henry also attributed his victory to the many volunteers working to get him elected, particularly members of his church, Greater Friendship Baptist Church. His campaign manager was Maureen Durham, wife of Dr. L. Ronald Durham, the church’s pastor.
“I had a lot of people do a lot of work. So many people wanted me to win. They didn’t want me to win with their lips but with their hands. They wrote letters. With their feet – they went door to door for me and with me. And with their voices making thousands of phone call asking people to vote for me,” Henry remarked.
“I wanted residents to really feel like they knew Derrick Henry. You can’t make all of that happen by yourself.’’
Overcame political obstacles
Henry considers himself a competitor and says he knew what he needed to do to win.
The mayor-elect said he wants people to know “the Derrick Henry that his mother (Agnes Houston) knows.”
Henry had harsh criticism of Daytona Beach’s daily newspaper, which printed a story about alleged absentee ballot violations that almost stopped his campaign just as it was gaining momentum.
Supervisor of Elections Ann McFall, at Henry’s request, turned everything she had surrounding the allegations over to the State Attorney, which found no wrong doing on Henry’s part just before the beginning of early voting.
Two years ago, while a city commissioner, Henry was charged and later cleared of absentee ballot fraud.
Brothers on board
For now, Henry says he does not see a career as a politician.
“I am a career educator. I try to be led by God. I try to take on roles that give me an opportunity to make a difference in lives of others. If I feel led to take on a challenge I step into it,” explained Henry.
He works full time for Step-by-Step Expressions as executive director and is an administrator on assignment for Putnam County. He also is a former teacher and coach at Mainland High School.
Henry said he sees no problem juggling his job as mayor with his other jobs.
He also will be working with his brother, Patrick, who replaced him in January 2011 on the city commission after he resigned because of the election fraud charges in 2010.
Henry said residents should not be worried about he and his brother working on the same elected body.
“It means we have two people who think independently who are not controlled by special interests. I don’t always agree with my brother,” Henry concluded.