Count Joe Jackson out – and potentially, former city administrator Fred Russell in – in the election for Augusta mayor.
Jackson, a two-term commissioner from District 6, said Wednesday he has ruled out running for mayor this year and has thrown his support instead behind Russell, whom the commission voted to fire Dec. 9.
“I’ve already met with (Russell) and he asked me for his support and I gave it to him,” Jackson said. “Fred told me to go ahead and let everybody know. … He said he was going to announce this week.”
Widely speculated to be a potential candidate, Russell hasn’t filed paperwork with the state ethics office disclosing his intent to accept campaign contributions. He also hasn’t denied interest, but did not respond to messages Wednesday seeking confirmation.
In an election likely held May 20, four candidates – Commissioner Alvin Mason, Sen. Hardie Davis and businesspeople Helen Blocker-Adams and Charles Cummings – have declared their intent to seek the job, which pays $65,000 annually.
So far, there is no announced white candidate for mayor in a city long-known for its racial politics.
Russell’s popularity with the 10-member commission waxed and waned over his 12-year tenure. In the end, he wasn’t fired for breaking any rule or law, and left office with a six-month severance package as commissioners cited the need to move in a different direction.
“With Fred’s knowledge and ability – and I thought about this when we fired him – he would make a good mayor,” Jackson said. “To me, he would make a better mayor than the other candidates that are putting their name out there.”
Russell, 61, is no stranger to politics. He led the Virginia State Crime Commission for five years and ran for sheriff of Richmond, Va., shortly before he was hired as deputy Augusta administrator in 2002.
Jackson said caring for his wife, who has a serious illness, and their three children was more important than a run for mayor.
“I’ve got a lot going on with my family right now,” Jackson said. “I’m going to focus on my business and take care of my life. … It’s God, family, business and then commission.”
Because of state-level indecision, the date of Augusta’s mayoral and five commission elections is not yet settled. Slated for July, most observers expect the legislature to move nonpartisan local races to May, to coincide with the date of the federal primary, with qualifying to start in March.
Augusta’s three mayors since consolidation have served a limited, full-time role as representative of the city. In the commission chamber where six commission votes set city policy, the mayor officiates the meetings and might break a tie but has no veto.