The tone of the District 1 Augusta Commission race has turned overtly negative, Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason said in a news conference today, and it's time for both candidates to come together - publicly, at a forum or debate - and show voters they're willing to work for all of them, black, white, Asian, Hispanic and all.
The city cant afford to have this government turned back into a circus, he said.
"As the mayor pro tem of Augusta-Richmond County, I appeal to candidates Matt Aitken and William Fennoy," Mr. Mason said, reading from a prepared statement. "One of you will be commissioner elect for all the people that reside in District 1 on the night of Dec. 1, 2009 ... This district and this city deserve to know that you will represent and take into account the interests of al the residents, regardless of skin color."
Mr. Mason called on the candidates to come together in a mutually agreed-upon format the day before the Dec. 1 runoff. Thus far, Mr. Aitken has declined invitations to attend events with Mr. Fennoy present, saying the issues were hashed out exhaustively in forums before the Nov. 3, general election, and that such events won't be productive because of the racial tone of the campaign.
"I would suggest," Mr. Mason said today, "that both candidates have a meeting of the minds and come together and allow the constituents of this district the opportunity to see you side by side at a mutually agreed upon location on Monday, Nov. 30, 2009. Since the regular election there have been endorsements by former candidates who had different views. District 1 needs to hear and question where you both stand today before a vote is cast next Tuesday."
Mr. Aitken said he wishes Mr. Mason would have talked to him before making his public statement. He said he is not changing his mind about joint appearances.
Well just let the voters decide whos going to step into this seat, he said. Were running our campaign. Well run it the best way we know how, and well continue doing that.
Mr. Fennoy said today that hes willing to have a representative of his campaign meet with a representative of Mr. Aitkens campaign and come to an agreement on the time, location, format and moderator for a public debate.
I have never had a problem meeting anyone anytime, Mr. Fennoy said. I have always shown up at any event when Ive been invited, and that hasnt changed.
Last week, Mr. Fennoy appeared at forums at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Lucy Craft Laney Museum; Mr. Aitken was invited to both but declined. Mr. Fennoy also attended a Summerville Neighborhood Association meeting at the Partridge Inn, which Mr. Aitken backed out of after learning Mr. Fennoy would be present.
Mr. Mason, however, said he didnt call the news conference to criticize one candidate or another. He also referenced Monday's press conference by a group calling itself a "collective body representing every aspect of the black community," which blasted Mr. Aitken for skipping debates hosted by black organizations and said the commission's 5-5 racial balance needs to be preserved, and therefore black voters must come out en masse to defeat Mr. Aitken.
"At a press conference yesterday, it was mentioned that this may be the most important election since consolidation," Mr. Mason said. "I'm inclined to agree with that statement. What I don't agree with, though, is that there is any collective body that represents all black people or any collective body that represents all white people.
"As to the 5-5 racial balance of the commission, the charter does not mandate a racial outcome, but the lines were drawn so that if people came out in great enough numbers and voted, then there could be a balance on this commission.
So to me, the message should be to encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote, and each candidate get proactive in energizing the voters to come out and decide how you want your commission to act, look and think on your behalf.
Mr. Fennoy said he has never advocated rhetoric saying he should be elected solely because he is black. However, he said hes opposed to the commission tipping 6-4 in favor of either whites or blacks. He said he was knocking on doors during Mondays news conference at the base of the Lady Justice statue behind the Municipal Building and was not responsible for what was said.
Mr. Mason said after the news conference that while he does have a personal preference between the two candidates, he is not making a public endorsement. By making a public statement today, he said, he's trying to initiate a healing process, given the way the District 1 race has gone so far.