McIntyre's fall was felt by all

Augusta was still basking in the glow of electing its first black mayor when Mallory Millender went to the Municipal Building to talk to his longtime friend.


It was shortly after the Oct. 28, 1981, election and this was his first time seeing Ed McIntyre sitting in the mayor's office. Upon entering, Dr. Millender said, the strangest of thoughts popped into his mind -- ones that went unsaid.

"My first thoughts were, 'Ed, promise me that you won't let them catch you in no (crimes),' " the Paine College professor recalled. "But I didn't say it because I thought that Ed might be insulted by that, that he was above that. When you are a black first, the whole ethnic group is vulnerable to your failures. That is to say that if you do well, it will open doors to all of us. If you do poorly, it may slam the door for the rest of us. So, there's a great responsibility that people have when they achieve."

Less than three years later, Mr. McIntyre left office in disgrace, resigning May 3, 1984, after his conviction on three federal extortion charges. For those who knew and worked closely with Mr. McIntyre, his resignation 25 years ago this month still hurts.

What bothers, if not haunts, his true believers are the possibilities of a career seemingly destined for greatness. And many of them say his fall was not only a personal tragedy, but also one to a community that got only a taste of his vision for its future.

One of his major accomplishments changed the landscape of the city. As mayor, Mr. McIntyre pushed for an entertainment/retail area on the riverfront, planting the seeds for what would become Riverwalk Augusta.

Much more could have been accomplished, said local businessman James Kendrick, a longtime friend of Mr. McIntyre and former board chairman of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.

"One of the things that we are truly missing that I think Mac would have made a positive influence on is the fact that so many folks now choose not to come to Richmond County," Mr. Kendrick said. "I think Mac would have, years ago, made a determined effort to create some kind of mechanism to encourage folks to live and build in Richmond County."

It was a heady time in Augusta in 1981 when Mr. McIntyre became the first -- and so far, only -- black to be elected Augusta's mayor. Such an accomplishment in the early 1980s was rare in America and particularly in the Deep South, where only been a handful of blacks had been mayors since A.J. McClung of Columbus, Ga., served 52 days in 1973. Mr. McIntyre, however, had long been a known commodity in Augusta, having earlier broken the color barrier on the Richmond County Commission in 1970.

No one worked harder than Mr. McIntyre at building relationships and coalitions, and it paid off, say those who knew him well.

"He never stopped campaigning," said Dr. Millender, who worked on Mr. McIntyre's mayoral campaign. "McIntyre worked at relationships, absolutely irrespective of color. He used to say that in politics, there are no friends and there are no enemies. There are supporters and nonsupporters. And people who support you on this issue may not support you on the next, and vice-versa. But nothing was personal with him. He went to the most conservative people in this community, racists in some instances, and formed strong relationships, so that when he got ready to do things, he had friends in very unexpected quarters."

To win, he needed crossover votes because whites outnumbered blacks in registered voters 55 percent to 44 percent, despite the city's population of 47,000 being slightly majority black.

Mr. McIntyre's opponent in the runoff, Joe E. Taylor, was making sure voters were fully aware of the color difference.

"I'm not a racist: It's simply a matter that there's a black candidate and a white candidate and the whites voted for the white and the blacks voted for the black," Mr. Taylor said in an Oct. 25, 1981, article in the Augusta Herald before the runoff. "We were surprised by how few whites voted. Look at the 8th Ward. They only had only a 59 percent turnout. My concern is getting the other registered voters out."

McIntyre campaign strategists expected Mr. Taylor to play the race card, and to an extent, were glad that he did.

"Joe killed himself, really with both communities, when he sort of portrayed Mac as some kind of monkey or something," said Marion Barnes, a Richmond County school board member and Mr. McIntyre's campaign manager at the time. "And we used that as one of our rallying cries. And we got lucky with that. But Joe did it to himself. Joe was the type of person, and we analyzed it, that really the white people didn't want.

"Strange as it is, at that time, even though it was black and white, we felt that the people were going to vote for the person that they thought would be more successful for this community. And Mac was it."

The night before the vote, Mr. McIntyre pumped up his supporters, holding a rally that was broadcast live by a local radio station.

"He was a young Martin Luther King, the way he took the words of Joe Taylor and aroused the community," Mr. Barnes said. "I think that put him over the top."

Mr. McIntyre, who'd campaigned on racial and economic progress, won by getting overwhelming support in the black community and winning 10 percent of the white vote.

"There are tremendous parallels to McIntyre and Obama, in terms of what it meant to black people," Dr. Millender said. "It was like Nov. 4. You had people shaking their heads. It was something we hoped would happen, but almost didn't allow ourselves to believe would happen. I think that black people felt a part of the government and part of the city in ways that they had never felt before."

Being mayor of one of Georgia's largest cities gave Mr. McIntyre a high public profile. His career seemed destined beyond local politics. Mr. Barnes said he expected Mr. McIntyre to eventually run for Congress.

But the seminal moment of 1981 gave way to another one. On Dec. 21, 1983, Mr. McIntyre, along with two others, was arrested by the FBI for conspiring and attempting to extort money -- $9,000 -- from a local real estate developer interested in starting a project on city-owned property fronting the Savannah River. His resignation six months later would be the first by a sitting Augusta mayor because of criminal malfeasance.

The joy of his election was replaced by despair, particularly in the area where Mr. McIntyre first rose to prominence.

"When he fell, it was like a funeral in the black community," Dr. Millender said. "It was like a death in the family. I mean, it hurt. There was profound sadness."

Why he did it is something his close colleagues can't explain. Some still find it hard to use the word "crime," substituting in its place words such as "troubles," "downfall" and "failures" to describe their friend's legal entanglement.

"All great leaders have tremendous egos, and I believe that Mac's ego played as big a part in his downfall as anything else. I don't believe personally that he was on the take," said Eugene Hunt, a retired bank executive who was Mr. McIntyre's campaign treasurer in 1981. "If anything was wrong, it was more ego than it was greed. First of all, we weren't talking about a large amount of money, even back in the '80s. I can't see him sacrificing everything for something like that."

Ralph Walker, who did polling for Mr. McIntyre during the mayoral race, said some people still believe it was entrapment. He is one of them.

"Everyone knows that McIntyre was set up," said Dr. Walker, an Augusta State University political science professor. "But, you can't be set up if you're not willing to be set up."

Mr. McIntyre never publicly admitted guilt, but many times later apologized for "the mistake" he made. Before he was sentenced, he told the court, "My conscience is clear and I think I have set myself right with my Lord."

The lasting impact of Mr. McIntyre's undoing, Dr. Walker said, goes beyond a career wasted.

"I think he had tremendous potential and would have brought this community together in better shape than it ever had been racially," Dr. Walker said. "We've been pretty splintered. I think Ed was the one person who could have brought it all together. He had it moving in the right direction."

After Mr. McIntyre got out of prison in 1985 after serving 14 months, he set about trying to pick up the tattered pieces of his political career. He ran unsuccessfully for public office four more times before his death on Aug. 14, 2004, at age 71.

Mr. Barnes, who grew up with Mr. McIntyre, remained close friends with the former mayor until his death. He said they never talked about his conviction.

As Mr. McIntyre's health started deteriorating in 2003, Mr. Barnes said his friend would call every day to check up on him because he, too, was having health issues. He was more concerned about someone else's problem, not his own, and that, Mr. Barnes said, reflects more of the type of man Mr. McIntyre was than what happened in 1984.

"He wasn't worried about his (health), he was worried about Marion Barnes and what he could do for me," Mr. Barnes said. "I don't think he died trying to make up. I think he wanted to -- it might be make up but I'm going to use another word -- he wanted to prove himself. It was 'I want to show people that I can do good, my intentions were good and I want to go back and do that, what I didn't do the first time.' "

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