Everybody who’s ever run for mayor in Augusta has promised to unite the city, and this year’s candidates are no exception.
Mayoral candidate Helen Blocker Adams’ campaign slogan is “Uniting Augusta Together.”
At a political forum in east Augusta last week, state Sen. Hardie Davis said he’s running for mayor because senior citizens all across Augusta have told him, “Sen. Davis, we need someone who will come and represent all of us and lead our city, one Augusta, not a divided Augusta, not a white versus a black Augusta, not an east versus a west Augusta or a south Augusta.’”
Candidate Charles Cummings said, “At the end of the day, we’ve got to work as one big team.”
Candidate Lori Myles performed a dramatic monologue on the subject.
“It’s time for Augusta to stop singling itself off into its own cohort of who we want and what we don’t want,” she said. “It’s time for blacks to stop. It’s time for whites to quit. We have to all realize that we have been brought together for one purpose, one reason and one season.”
She asked everyone to look at her as the next mayor, as infrastructure, as sales tax packages done right and last but not least, as dilapidated houses built up.
“As a matter of fact, the next time you see me, look at me and see commissioners brought together and one city brought together to do one vision,” she said.
THEY TALK THE TALK, BUT DO THEY WALK THE WALK? Blocker Adams asked the predominantly black audience to raise their hands if they lived in east Augusta and held up a photo of flooding in the area from 1990.
Twenty-four years ago, and it still floods here, she said. “Who has your back? We’ve had elected officials all that time.”
“There’s a ZIP code, 30901 is in the top 10 of the highest incarcerated men in the state of Georgia,” she said. “I have a problem with that. And that’s why I work with organizations like Full Circle Rescue for young people to deal with those types of issues. The top 10 ZIP codes in Georgia. You know, there’s 139 counties in Georgia. That’s a whole lot of counties, folks. Top 10 in incarceration.”
“159 counties,” she corrected herself. “That’s even more ZIP codes.”
“This area for years has been called the Bottom,” she continued. “I don’t like that term. As mayor, I would never call this area the bottom. Who wants to be on the bottom? … This is not the bottom. This area matters. Somebody has not been taking care of you all. Who’s got your back?”
Then it was candidate Alvin Mason’s turn to demagogue.
Not since Mayor Ed McIntyre’s time in office have people had an opportunity to hire a mayor with commission experience, he said.
“And now you have an opportunity some 34 years later to do the same thing again because for the last 34 years there’s been a disconnect between the mayor’s office and the commission. And what we need to do with all the dysfunction that people talk about. There’s reason for that. There’s lack of transparency. You’ve felt it down here in east Augusta. You haven’t been taken care of. Other areas have. We’re going to fix that. We’re still going to be fair to everybody, but those that have been waiting for a long time have been hurting for a long time, it’s now time for you to get yours. It’s past due.”
To his credit, Mason was the only candidate to even hint at what everybody knows causes crime and poverty in ZIP code 30901 and others.
“At some point, we’re going to have to address the real issue in our community,” he said. “It does take a village to raise children today, but it’s our responsibility. A baby can’t raise himself.”
THOSE WHO WOULD BE SENATORS: Other traditions for candidates are to talk about how bad things are under the current administration, while those seeking re-election boast about all the good they’ve done.
Augusta Mayor Pro Tem and state Senate District 22 candidate Corey Johnson took credit for getting Hyde Park residents relocated.
“I championed the cause in Hyde Park, and as a result we found a solution and reason to move people out of Hyde Park,” he said. “And, as we speak, they are being relocated. In fact, some of them spent their Christmas in their new home. That’s right, 2013 they spent their Christmas in their new home because I was persistent in making sure we found a solution. We did it without federal dollars. And that’s never been heard of.”
Actually, relocations are being paid for with federal money through the city’s Housing and Community Development Department.
Johnson also said he fought “tooth and nail” to get the new judicial center courthouse named in honor of Judge John H. Ruffin Jr., the first black chief justice of the Georgia Court of Appeals.
State Senate District 22 candidate Harold Jones spoke of his courage when he was Richmond County State Court Solicitor.
“When I was solicitor general, I made sure that office was diverse,” he said. “When I was first hired, I was the first African-American there. When I was elected, I was still the only one there. When I left, there were seven African-American attorneys. I boast about that openly.”
But now, Augusta and the state are in “a truly crisis situation” which, he said, is why he’s running for Senate.
“Georgia’s poverty rate is one of the highest in the nation,” he said. “Augusta’s poverty rate is higher than the state of Georgia’s. So that means Augusta’s poverty rate is one of the highest in the nation.”
Georgia also has the fourth largest incarceration rate in the nation, and Augusta has one of the highest incarceration rates, especially in ZIP codes 30901 and 30906, Jones said.
“That means that right here two of our ZIP codes lead the nation in incarceration rates. Education has been cut continually, over a billion dollars in several years. And Augusta’s educational system lags behind Georgia’s, which is 49th in the nation. So we are no doubt in a crisis situation. And we need leadership ready to handle that.”
What about what Alvin said?
“We have to stop recycling the same old ideas. The same old concepts,” said Senate District 22 candidate Elmyra Chivers.
TALKING TURKEY: Cummings provides comic relief to the painful proceedings, the pandering, the puffery.
Speaking of residents’ consolidated property-tax and garbage bills, he said, “You’re all familiar with the garbage bill. … It’s connected to your property taxes. At the end of the year, they got it hooked up, and now you got this big bill.
“You get one-day service. You’re paying two-day prices. Let’s split it in half and move it up to March. Start paying it down. And in July, take that property-tax bill and start paying on it then. And then in November, you won’t have such a big ol’ bill. You have extra turkey, put it under the tree, put it in the oven and have a little extra money to spend.”