As a thrice-elected, popular mayor, Deke Copenhaver is certain to have potential successors hopeful of hooking onto his coattails.
Two of them, Helen Blocker-Adams, who supported Copenhaver in a 2005 runoff after narrowly missing out in the general election, and Lori Myles call Copenhaver a mentor with whom they will train if elected May 20. State Sen. Hardie Davis included Copenhaver’s name on a high-priced fundraiser invitation last week.
Copenhaver, who is term-limited, knew his name would appear on the invitation, but was overseas last week and unable to comment about what it meant, his assistant Al Dallas said.
Election observers generally are divided over the weight such a connection to Copenhaver could have.
“He endorsed Scott Peebles (for sheriff) – how did that work out?” asked former Mayor Bob Young.
Over his nine-year tenure, Copenhaver has voiced support for several candidates, but more often than not they’ve lost.
He helped Matt Aitken secure a first term on the Augusta Commission, but Aitken lost his run for a second. Peebles, a sheriff’s office captain, lost a primary runoff to Sheriff Richard Roundtree. Copenhaver also backed Sean Frantom, who lost the Super District 10 Commission race to Grady Smith, who had the support of then-incumbent Don Grantham. The mayor backed former commissioner Freddy Handy in a bid for District 2 in 2007, but Handy lost to Corey Johnson in a runoff.
Regardless, the Davis campaign is “glad” to have Copenhaver’s name in his list of supporters, said Ed Enoch, the campaign chairman.
Young said he wasn’t endorsing anybody but would gladly give his opinion about the field, which he said isn’t spending enough time talking about the cash-strapped city budget.
“I don’t put a lot of stock in endorsements myself,” Young said. “It’s nice to have them, but they don’t make or break a campaign.”
More helpful, according to another activist in Augusta politics, is physically campaigning for the candidate.
Commissioner Marion Williams, who beat the Copenhaver-backed Harold Jones for the Super District 9 seat in 2012 and also worked for Roundtree, is pounding the pavement for mayoral candidate Alvin Mason and commission candidates Melvin Ivey and Dennis Williams.
“I’m for Alvin Mason, all the way,” the commissioner said after an afternoon distributing the lengthy May 20 ballot door-to-door.
Former 10th District Republican Party Chairman Dave Barbee, a longtime political observer, said Copenhaver’s endorsement carried limited weight.
“It’s hard for an elected official to transfer his political prowess to another candidate,” Barbee said. “Deke, he’s old news. He can’t come back.”
Often more important is money, Barbee said. Before Wednesday’s fundraiser, Davis had reported more than $90,000 in contributions, with $27,947 on hand March 31, far more than any of his opponents.
“Whoever has the gold, rules,” Barbee said.
Richard Isdell, the president of the Augusta-Richmond County Committee for Good Government, said his organization’s endorsements, like others, are helpful for uninformed voters, or those who wait until the last minute to make a decision.
“There are a ton of people out there that probably haven’t thought much about it,” Isdell said. The group will make its endorsements this week.
Retired Georgia Regents University political science professor Ralph Walker said candidates typically seek the endorsement by an incumbent, whoever it is.
Copenhaver “is rather popular. He has a way of not making anybody mad,” said Walker, who had Copenhaver as a college student. “If I was a candidate, I would want his endorsement.”
Copenhaver’s non-controversial style might lighten the weight of his endorsement, Walker said, and the new mayor may turn out entirely different.
“Each individual puts his own stamp on the office,” he said.
Copenhaver “did the best he could,” but any candidate would benefit from knowledge the sitting mayor has gathered, mayoral candidate Charles Cummings said.
“For the majority of us, having Deke in our corner is a plus, not a negative,” Cummings said.
Blocker-Adams, who has not been afforded a Copenhaver endorsement despite taking heat for supporting him in the 2005 runoff over a black candidate, interim Mayor Willie Mays, said she’ll “shadow him” and make him a “key ally” after she wins the election, but she put some distance between their mayoral styles.
“I’m my own person and I’m much stronger and vocal on issues that matter,” she said.