Probably the most watched of the Augusta Commission races because it could end the six-member white majority of the past three years, the District 1 race pits three neighborhood activists – Denice Traina, Bill Fennoy and Stanley Hawes – against incumbent Matt Aitken.
Aitken surprised many when he rode low turnout to win a 2009 runoff against Fennoy and became, for the first time since Augusta and Richmond County consolidated in 1996, the first white representative for heavily black District 1.
Three years later, Aitken is again running in a district that is 65 percent black, but this time he’ll be on a ballot that also includes President Obama and sheriff candidate Richard Roundtree, both of whom have demonstrated the ability to increase black voter turnout in Augusta.
Aitken, who was raised in Harrisburg and has an Academy of Richmond County education, said he’s indifferent to the color factor.
A graduate of Leadership Augusta with the financial backing of the city’s white power brokers, Aitken said he has campaigned on moving the city forward, especially when it comes to construction projects such as the Augusta Convention Center, also known as the TEE Center, and expanding downtown events.
With completion of a new convention center parking deck, main library, sheriff’s administration building, courthouse and convention center in District 1 during his term, coupled with the growth of downtown events such as the ESi half-Ironman triathlon, it’s only a matter of time, Aitken said, “for this district to take off like gangbusters.”
Aitken has raised five times as much his closest opponent – $14,630 to date. Influential businessmen Barry Storey, Clay Boardman and Donnie Thompson each gave Aitken $500 during October. The same support boosted his campaign war chest to $29,820, a lot for the District 1 race, before the 2009 runoff with Fennoy.
Fennoy, meanwhile, has the blessing of Betty Beard, who held the seat before Aitken and succeeded her late husband, Lee Beard. Fennoy serves as the president of the Laney-Walker Neighborhood Association, where millions in hotel room taxes are funding a massive redevelopment initiative, thanks to a deal struck by Betty Beard and then-Commissioner Don Grantham to win her approval on the convention center.
A Paine College graduate and retired health educator for the Richmond County Health Department, Fennoy has taken an entourage of supporters to each District 1 commission debateand an assortment of poster prints of the dilapidated buildings and flooded neighborhoods still persistent in the district.
Fennoy, who has raised $2,560 to date, highlights a lack of progress and persistent high poverty in District 1, despite the new construction, and he vows to shift resources to other areas where they are needed.
Taking a break from knocking on doors recently, Fennoy said his hope was to avoid a runoff and enjoy the holidays with his family.
One thing Fennoy and Aitken will not have is the blessing of former District 1 candidate and one-time Aitken supporter Lori Davis, who cited racial politics when she withdrew from the race and later threw her support behind Stanley Hawes, the former president of the Laney-Walker Neighborhood Association.
Hawes, who has filed no campaign financial disclosures since June, when he reported a negative $480 balance, prides himself on being a lifelong resident of the Laney-Walker neighborhood.
Hawes says he knows the people and all the neighborhoods and is quick to remind supporters of his work in the Laney-Walker area over the decades and the large amounts that have already been spent there without many results.
Including Augusta’s Harrisburg, east Augusta, Laney-Walker, Bethlehem, downtown and medical districts, “District 1 is about the most diverse district that you’re going to have,” said Hawes, who is black. “I think I would do a better job because I’m community-oriented.”
The final District 1 candidate would bring representation to half the city’s residents if elected. Denice Traina and District 3 candidate Mary Davis are the only women running for the all-male 10-member commission.
Traina, a pediatric physical therapist with a master’s degree from Georgia Health Sciences University, says that she is a package deal. Her husband, Anibal Ibarra, and adult son, Joey, accompany her on debates and film each of her appearances to post on her Web site.
Traina, the former president of Harrisburg-West End Neighborhood Association, co-founded the Augusta Green Party and served as a state official for the party.
A certified beekeeper, Traina founded the Harrisburg Honey Cooperative and the Harrisburg Community Garden.
Traina is running her campaign, however, on a platform of improving the city’s transit service to better connect residents with jobs.
She even announced her run at the Broad Street bus transfer station and, most recently, advocated for the city to use a projected $400,000 savings from the commission’s decision last year to outsource Augusta Public Transit to expand bus routes, particularly one to Fort Gordon.