Started at the The Chronicle as a night police reporter in 2000, after moving to Augusta from Lynchburg, Va. The following year, joined the Special Projects team. In 2003, covered the invasion of Iraq as an embedded reporter with the Augusta-based 319th Transportation Company. Served as the Society of Professional Journalists' Georgia Sunshine Chair from 2007 to 2009. After Sylvia Cooper retired in 2008, spent a little over a year as the newspaper's city government reporter, writing The City Core both as a weekend print column and as an online blog. This year, joined the newly-formed Public Service team.
Posted September 10, 2009 07:29 pm - Updated September 10, 2009 07:48 pm

Landlord vs. tenant

I don’t get this thing with Butch Palmer and Anthony Jones.

Mr. Palmer – former hairdresser, outspoken Harrisburg activist and landlord of more than a dozen homes – said in early August that he planned to run for Betty Beard’s seat on the Augusta Commission. Last week, on Sept. 3, he paid the $360 qualifying fee and officially entered.

The next day, which was the last day to qualify, Mr. Jones jumped in the race, too. 

These two guys are friends. Before last week, I’d never talked to Mr. Jones in depth, but I’ve been seeing him hanging around with Mr. Palmer for some time. He’s been at Harrisburg neighborhood meetings, and he took part in all three landlord protests with Mr. Palmer.

And the best part: Mr. Jones, 35, is a tenant in one of Mr. Palmer’s houses on Walker Street, just around the corner from where Mr. Palmer lives on Tuttle Street.

Why would two buddies, one paying rent to the other, both in the same group of activists fired up enough about Harrisburg’s problems to take to the streets with placards, each decide to run for the District 1 seat? Don’t people united behind a cause usually rally behind a single candidate? Don’t opposing candidates usually sling mud and mount whisper campaigns?

A theory gaining traction is that Mr. Palmer put Mr. Jones up to running as a tactic for splitting up the black vote. Or perhaps he's thinking that if he can't win, maybe Mr. Jones can. The district is 65 percent black. Five people are in the race, and Ms. Beard, who’s not running again, has endorsed William Fennoy.

Mr. Palmer strongly denies he and his tenant are in cahoots. Mr. Palmer said Mr. Jones is “very politically inclined.”

“He’s got a mind of his own,” Mr. Palmer said. “It’s something that he wants. We’re completely different people.”

I saw Mr. Jones at the protest in Forrest Hills on Wednesday, and he also denied there was any collusion. I asked him how Mr. Palmer reacted when he found out he was in the race.

“He wished me good luck, for one,” Mr. Jones said. “He didn’t appear to me as being upset.”

Mr. Palmer says it’s “remarkable” that two Harrisburg residents care enough about the neighborhood to run for office. He said he’s not as interested in winning as he is in bringing problems to light.

“He’s not running against me,” Mr. Palmer said. “I don’t look at anyone as running against me. We’re running for issues for the neighborhood.”

What good that'll do if they're both trounced is beyond me. In this crowded race, that's a likely outcome.