Aitken-Fennoy runoff recalls similar contest in 2009

A groundswell of voter turnout on Nov. 6 that gave Augusta a black sheriff, black probate judge and black solicitor general did not restore the black-white balance on the Augusta Commission, when neither of two black candidates won 50 percent of votes in the District 1 commission race.


Instead, incumbent Matt Aitken won 40 percent of votes in the 65 percent black district and heads into a repeat of 2009, when he and Bill Fennoy dueled in a December runoff for the commission post. This year’s runoff is Dec. 4.

In 2009, two black candidates and two white candidates faced off in the general election, with Aitken coming in first and Fennoy, then and now, in second.

Aitken won nearly the same percentage of votes in the 2009 general election as he did on Nov. 6 – 40 percent – while Fennoy’s share of votes was less, dropping from 32.5 percent in 2009 to 30 percent on Nov. 6.

In the 2009 runoff, Aitken cemented his lead by picking up precincts won by white candidate Butch Palmer in Harrisburg, Summerville and downtown, while Fennoy added votes in precincts he won the first time – Laney-Walker and Bethlehem, east Augusta and Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Aitken carried the runoff, when 25 percent turnout exceeded the 17 percent turnout in the general election, with 1,657 votes to Fennoy’s 1,427.

Much heavier turnout Nov. 6 – 72 percent countywide driven by the presidential and sheriff’s elections in which black candidates got more than 63 percent of votes in the sheriff, probate judge and solicitor’s races – wasn’t as kind to black candidates in the District 1 commission race, where turnout was 69 percent.

Added together, District 1’s two black candidates garnered only about 45 percent of the vote Nov. 6.

The candidates who finished third and fourth, Denice Traina and Stanley Hawes ,are not supporting anyone in the runoff.

In 2009, Palmer threw his support behind Aitken.

Redistricting didn’t alter District 1’s black majority, and a federal judge’s map cites a 70 percent black or mixed population there, along with a 65 percent voting age black or mixed population.

Three years ago, observers noted the age of the district’s white voters and their tendency to turn out more than its voting-age blacks, who tend to be younger and vote less, as factors in Aitken’s win. Aitken carried historically black Paine College’s small precinct in both the general election and the runoff, however, and carried it again Nov. 6.

This time, Fennoy has backing from Betty Beard, a powerful political figure and the last black commissioner to represent the district. A black commissioner represented the district from the consolidated government’s formation in 1996 until Aitken’s win in 2009.

To win, Fennoy likely needs a turnout resembling that of Richard Roundtree’s Democratic runoff victory in August over white sheriff candidate Scott Peebles. About a quarter of registered voters returned to the polls, though turnout was less in District 1, at just over 15 percent.

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Anyone who lives in District 1 and was eligible at the time of the general election on Nov. 6 can vote in the runoff.


EARLY VOTING: From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and Nov. 26-30 ballots can be cast at the Richmond County Board of Elections office in the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, 530 Greene St.

ABSENTEE: The elections board is accepting applications for absentee ballots and hopes to have them by Monday.

ELECTION DAY: 14 polling places will be open for the Dec. 4 runoff.



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