In a heated runoff to represent District 6 on the Augusta Commission, newspaper publisher Ben Hasan was victorious Tuesday, pulling in 1,243 votes, or 52.43 percent, to Fort Gordon retiree Bob Finnegan’s 1,128 votes, or 47.57 percent.
Supporters chanted “607” at Hasan’s victory party, the precinct number covering his Pepperidge subdivision which carried him to victory with 383 votes to Finnegan’s 20.
The win creates a six-member black majority on the commission for the first time since consolidation.
“We kept it clean, a very dignified race at the end of the day and we both were satisfied with that,” Hasan said after returning a concession phone call from Finnegan. “I look forward to working with him any way I can.”
Hasan said he is a “consensus builder” who plans to “build relationships” on the sometimes-fractured 10-member Augusta Commission.
“I look forward to working with all the commissioners,” he said.
Willie Greene, the president of Pepperidge Neighborhood Association, said the community of 1,100 homes came out in force for Hasan, with a reminder of Tuesday’s runoff elections posted on the neighborhood’s scrolling marquis.
“Ben is going to be very fair,” Greene said. “He’s going to do his own thinking. He’s in office for the people and will make the commission better.”
Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree, who appeared at the party, said Hasan “has always been a supporter” of law enforcement. Hasan had the endorsement of the CSRA Police Benevolent Association, but Roundtree said the group, which boasts 625 mostly Richmond County law enforcement members, was separate from the sheriff’s office.
Finnegan conceded the race at a neighbor’s home in the Alleluia Community’s Faith Village, where he and dozens of other mostly evangelical Catholic families reside.
“I think it was a great race, I really enjoyed myself doing it. I got to meet a lot of new people, make a lot of new friends,” Finnegan said. “(Hasan) said he wanted to get together and talk in a week or so and I’d love to do that.”
Finnegan won big at the district’s Burns United Methodist Church precinct, where much of the Alleluia Community votes, with 563 votes to Hasan’s 166. Finnegan was leading until the final precinct results came in from 607.
“I’m trying to figure out what we could have done different and I really can’t think of anything. I think we put it out there and we came a little short,” said Finnegan, the former chairman of the Richmond County Republican Party.
While both Hasan and Finnegan downplayed the racial component of Hasan’s win, it gives black members a six-vote majority on the commission for the first time in 55.84-percent black Augusta.
The point wasn’t lost on former Mayor Larry Sconyers, who commented before voting Tuesday at Burns that the consolidated government’s governing body was designed to share power equally between five white and five black members.
“It will change the balance of power” if Hasan wins, Sconyers said.
Sconyers said his experience as mayor taught him that despite extensive negotiations and compromising before a commission vote, decisions at the dais tended to fall along color lines.
“They’d make a blood oath, then walk into the chamber and everyone would get amnesia,” he said.
District 6 resident Michael Newman, who voted for Finnegan, said despite being “not concerned” about the racial mix on the commission, he believed based on observations of commission behavior in the past that racial groups do tend to vote as a bloc.
“They have in the past,” Newman said.
The last time a racial group had the majority was in 2012, when Matt Aitken, who is white, lost a bid for a second term representing majority black District 1 to Bill Fennoy. During Aitken’s term, the commission’s four black members occasionally referred to the majority white “Gang of Six” when the group passed measures such as a restructuring of city government and a new personnel policy and procedures manual.
Originally a predominantly white south Augusta district, the “swing” district now has the city’s smallest margin of black to white voters, with 52.43 percent black voters and a voting-age population that is 49.35 percent black.
Including residents who are of mixed race including black, according to U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall’s 2012 redistricting order, the percentage minority population is larger in District 6. The total mixed-race population including black is 54.26 percent, with 50.22 percent of the voting-age population. The district also enjoys a population that is 3.47 percent Latino or Hispanic.