Two relative insiders, both with close ties to sitting Augusta politicians, and a Michigan transplant are vying to represent the city’s affluent District 3 on the Augusta Commission, where Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles is term-limited.
Born, raised and away from Augusta for only four years of her life for college at the University of Georgia, Mary Fair Davis considers Mayor Deke Copenhaver a close friend. She served as the mayor’s campaign manager in his successful 2006 bid for a first full term and has received thousands in campaign donations from Copenhaver’s family.
But the mother of two, now working part-time in development at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School, said she’s running for commission for much more than a seat at the dais near her friend.
“Deke and I, gosh, we’ve been friends for almost 20 years. I love him, but I don’t love him this much to run for him or anybody else,” she said. “I’m not running for anybody else except for this city.”
If elected, she might become the only woman on the 11-member panel of mayor and commissioners. Davis said juggling motherhood and work, as she’s done for 15 years, has prepared her for the demanding role of an Augusta commissioner.
“Working full-time and raising two children, you learn to multi-task,” she said. “I think I’m more effective when I’m multi-tasking and busy.”
Davis said she’s proud of the support she has across Augusta, not just within District 3, which runs west along Walton Way and Wheeler Road from Summerville to the Columbia County line, taking in the city’s newest subdivisions along Jimmie Dyess Parkway near Fort Gordon’s Gate 1.
Her primary concerns are public safety and ensuring that city infrastructure is properly maintained. She disagrees with some commission candidates who want to wait until after the elections to open the new Augusta Convention Center.
“We can’t lose those conventions,” she said of the 13 events scheduled at the center, on which commissioners continue to debate operating details.
With nearly as many campaign signs dotting District 3, Ed Enoch isn’t a native Augustan but a voluntary transplant who sought a medium-sized Southern city to start his legal career nearly 20 years ago.
It was a second career for the former submariner, who spent a decade in the Navy and many months in a vessel carrying intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Raised in a segregated Memphis suburb where his parents moved shortly after the assassination there of Martin Luther King Jr., Enoch said the close quarters of a submarine quickly dispelled any sense of skin color and taught him how to get along.
“You were locked in,” he said with a smile. “You learned to meet people where they are and deal with them.”
After the Navy, Enoch completed a degree at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., then earned a full-ride scholarship to Washington and Lee Law School.
Once in Augusta, Enoch worked for a local law firm doing mostly insurance defense work before finding his calling. “What I really clicked with was business law,” he said, “serving local businesses from beginning to end,” from incorporation to contracts, zoning and licensing requirements to the eventual sale of a company or estate planning.
Along the way, one of Enoch’s clients was Hardie Davis, an Augusta native and engineer turned preacher who was opening a church in south Augusta. The pair, who met at South Augusta Rotary Club, became friends and Enoch chaired Davis’ successful bid for a House seat and co-chaired the Democrat’s successful state Senate campaign.
Despite working to get the moderate Democrat elected, Enoch professed independence and, like Copenhaver, said there is no need for Augusta commission posts to be partisan.
“I just don’t think it adds anything,” he said. “Folks at a local level, they’re not dealing with the issues that the national parties are addressing.”
Enoch has another connection to the city. He’s served for nearly 10 years as attorney for an often dysfunctional Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority. With the authority, Enoch said he saw the damage that political bickering can do and agreed with Davis about not wrecking the new convention center’s reputation before it even opens.
The third candidate for District 3 is a relative newcomer to Augusta but not to District 3 politics. Cleveland O’Steen, the only black candidate seeking election to the 40 percent black district, pursued the seat in 2009 but won only 13.6 percent of votes to Bowles’ 80 percent.
That outcome no longer matters, said the private school teacher and adjunct political science professor at Georgia Military College.
“It’s an open seat, the incumbent is no longer, so yes, it’s a fair chance for either,” O’Steen said. “It’s definitely going to be a little different this time around.”
O’Steen, the president of the Kingston Neighborhood Association, said his emphasis will be on representing the entire district, keeping residents informed about the issues through quarterly meetings, keeping taxes low and managing taxpayer dollars wisely.
He’s the only candidate to have previously held office. O’Steen served as one of four trustees in a small Michigan township hit hard by the decline in the automotive industry.
“I think (Augusta) needs more commissioners to work together, and stop saying we need to come together, and work together as a whole body,” he said. “Gridlock is a good thing because it allows parties on both sides of the fence to see what’s really wrong, and what they need to work on.”