Bill Fennoy defeated incumbent Matt Aitken to represent majority-black Augusta Commission District 1, restoring a 5-5 racial balance on the 10-member commission.
Fennoy, who is black, won 63 percent
of the votes in Tuesday’s runoff and carried nine of the district’s 15 precincts. He beat Aitken, who is white, by 695 votes.
The commissioner-elect and supporters cheered and sang at Club 209 downtown when vote totals came in around 8:15 p.m.
“I’m glad, I’m glad I won,” he said. “But I am really disappointed with the turnout for this election, and one of the first things that I want to do is meet with the different people in the different precincts. I want them to know what their commissioner does; I want them to get involved in the process.”
Fennoy’s only white supporter to attend the watch party, Harrisburg activist and former mayoral candidate Lori Davis, said it was Aitken’s lack of involvement in Harrisburg after his election that caused her to join Fennoy’s campaign. She said she had nothing to gain Tuesday “except Harrisburg getting better.”
Former District 1 Commissioner Betty Beard, who backed the retired health educator early on, said restoring the 5-5 balance will cause “a total change” in the way the commission operates.
“We have to think of all the citizens and the entire city,” she said, citing the soon-to-open Augusta Convention Center as a project that doesn’t benefit all. “Right now, if (the commission) did anything, it’s only going to benefit a few.”
Former District 2 Commissioner Marion Williams, who won the Super District 9 commission post Nov. 6, said restoring the white/black balance that existed from consolidation in 1996 until Aitken won the seat in 2009 was important. Many believe a 5-5 split was built into the consolidated government’s charter to reflect a community that’s about 56 percent black and 60 percent minority.
“We need that five and five so we have to work together,” Williams said. Without the balance, “even if it’s right, people are going to think it doesn’t look right.”
Fennoy campaign worker Rufus Sanders said he has known Fennoy since he moved to Augusta in 1966 to attend Paine College. Sanders led the crowd in a campaign song that began, “Christmas just ain’t Christmas, without Bill Fennoy.” He said he and other volunteers were out urging voters to get to the polls until minutes before they closed.
“We had to flush a lot of people out, because a lot of people didn’t know about the runoff election,” Sanders said.
Turnout was low Tuesday, even lower than it was three years ago when Aitken surprised many by beating Fennoy in a similar runoff with 54 percent of the votes. Only 2,714 voters, or about 19 percent, cast ballots in Tuesday’s runoff.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver issued a statement congratulating Fennoy.
“I truly believe he has a heart for serving all the constituents of his district,” Copenhaver said. “I look forward to working with Bill to continue to build on Augusta’s momentum to fulfill our great city’s vast potential.”
Copenhaver also thanked Aitken for his service.
Aitken, surrounded by a somber crowd at his watch party, said he remained proud of his accomplishments, his supporters and his family.
“It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “It’s a great city, and I hope to be a part of it in some kind of way in what I do. I’ve built a lot of inroads in places people said I wouldn’t and I’m proud of that.”