Potential winners and losers from last week's election of Matt Aitken as District 1 commissioner:
MATT AITKEN: He can legitimately be considered the most powerful politician in city government now. By becoming the quintessential swing vote on the commission, he can use it to forge alliances on both sides of the racial aisle, forming coalitions that likely could not happen until the racial balance on the board was upended.
DEKE COPENHAVER: The mayor will get to use his limited voting powers more often because it's highly unlikely the abstention/absence strategy will work anymore. The strategy, primarily used by black commissioners, sometimes had one commissioner leave the room during a controversial vote to avoid a 5-5 tie. The tactic now can only be used by the white commissioners, but that would require an unlikely scenario where Mr. Aitken sides with the black commissioners on an issue the white commissioners don't want the mayor to vote on.
AUGUSTA RIVERFRONT LLC: The company that runs the convention center inside the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites, which has ties to the ownership of The Augusta Chronicle, was sticking point No. 1 for the commissioners opposed to pumping more money into the trade, exhibit and event center. There were complaints that the private company doesn't open its books to the city enough, and suggestions abounded on where else a TEE center could be built. That's over now. Mr. Aitken agrees that the site on Reynolds Street near the Augusta Common, where the Hyatt hotelier prefers the TEE center to be, is the prime spot.
DOWNTOWN ADVOCATES: Finally, the city center has a commissioner interested in building things there, and he's in the catbird seat. The only thing that's kept the TEE center from being approved was commission gridlock split down racial lines. Mr. Aitken's election will break that logjam, as he has stated his strong support for building the center. In fact, the commission might approve the center even before Mr. Aitken takes his seat because it now behooves the black commissioners to get it passed to avoid losing a deal tied to the project that would funnel millions into renovation of the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem communities, which are predominantly black.
COREY JOHNSON: With the racial balance busted, the up-and-coming politician can vote his conscience without fear of being labeled a traitor if he happens to side with whites.
ALVIN MASON: See Corey Johnson.
Fred Russell: No more exhaustive efforts to serve two masters. And he could finally get the power to hire and fire department heads, to boot. That's something white commissioners have long wanted, but they didn't have the votes.
HARRISBURG ACTIVISTS: After publicly blasting Mr. Aitken the night he lost to him in the Nov. 3 general election, Butch Palmer sucked it up and endorsed him, hitting the campaign trail with him, employing his bullhorn for him and no doubt delivering votes for him. Meanwhile, Mr. Aitken solidified his stance on passing a Chronic Nuisance Properties Ordinance, even mentioning it in his victory speech Tuesday. Mr. Palmer and Lori Davis already had the support of Joe Bowles. Their days of begging and pleading in commission chambers, or picketing outside the Municipal Building, are over.
DEKE COPENHAVER: No more hedging. No more cheerleading. He's in the game now instead of watching it from the sidelines. There will likely be more 5-5 ties, forcing him to make his position on some inevitable dicey issues known. The change comes just in time for his re-election campaign in 2010. Now, what goes on in commission meetings could define or determine his political future.
J.R. HATNEY: Old line: No extra money for the TEE center without equitable funding for Laney-Walker and Bethlehem. Move the TEE center to James Brown Arena and let Global Spectrum run it. New line: Can we talk?
BLACK MINISTERS: A number of the high-profile black ministers tried hard to make the runoff into a black-white issue, hoping to spur black voters to the polls to elect their candidate, Bill Fennoy. It backfired badly, as turnout in the 10 black precincts lagged far behind that of the three white precincts, basically allowing Mr. Aitken to win in a district that is 65 percent black.
CONTROVERSIAL DEPARTMENT HEADS: It's well known that some departments heads -- Procurement Director Geri Sams and City Attorney Chiquita Johnson, to name a couple -- could get axed if the white commissioners have their way. The black commissioners can no longer block job terminations. Even if Mr. Aitken sides with the black commissioners on this issue, that would likely only create a 5-5 tie, allowing the mayor to have the final say.
ALVIN MASON: When he was elected in 2006, Mr. Mason was looked on by many to become the swing vote who could help form coalitions that might stem gridlock on some key issues that tended to split along racial lines. Instead, he has sided for the most part with the black commissioners on these racially tinged issues. With Mr. Aitken's election, he has lost that opportunity. Not to mention that Mr. Aitken flatly ignored Mr. Mason's call for a joint appearance with Mr. Fennoy, then went on to win anyway.
WHITE COMMISSIONERS: Now that they have political juice, the public will be watching to see how they use it. Though most of them are in safe majority-white districts, the city is still majority black -- 52 percent in last year's U.S. Census Bureau estimates -- and any appearance of indifference toward the black community will acerbate racial divisions. It might not affect the white commissioners, but it could come back to haunt other white candidates who might run for countywide offices.
THE FIVE COMMISSIONERS OLDER THAN 51: Just as the race-based voting blocs dis- sipate, another one's forming, led by Joe Bowles -- a youth bloc, which numbers six if you count the mayor. Mr. Bowles says it's going to become the old way vs. the new way. Better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone.
AUSTIN RHODES: Without rancor on the commission, the local radio commentator has lost one of his favorite targets.