Helen Blocker-Adams’ campaign suspension has thrown a wrench into Tuesday’s election for Augusta mayor, and longtime local political observers are split over whom the move benefits.
Under fire after last week’s revelations that she had been evading debt collectors for more than a decade and was served with more than 40 eviction or dispossessory notices over the past seven years, Blocker-Adams tearfully announced Thursday that she was suspending her mayoral campaign. However, she has not formally withdrawn from the race. Unless she does so Monday, Blocker-Adams’ votes will count toward a win or runoff. Before reports of her financial reports surfaced, 2,600 advance ballots had been cast.
Longtime Augusta elections observer Dave Barbee said the news was “the type of thing that turns voters off” but that if anyone stands to benefit, it is state Sen. Hardie Davis.
“Hardie Davis will be the beneficiary of the Helen Blocker-Adams implosion,” said Barbee, a former 10th District Republican Party chairman.
Whether or not Blocker-Adams secures enough votes to head into a July runoff in the race, her political career is done, Barbee said.
“She gets the job, and those people come after her? That tarnishes the city,” he said.
Former Mayor Bob Young said he thought Blocker-Adams’ move could propel Davis to a win, possibly without a runoff if white voters – the bulk of Blocker-Adams’ support in a recent landline poll commissioned by The Augusta Chronicle – shift their support to Davis.
“My initial feeling is this helps Hardie and he may be positioned now to win without a runoff,” Young said. “Hardie and Helen were splitting the white votes. With the white votes falling more toward Hardie, I think it helps him.”
Should she reach a runoff, Blocker-Adams could attempt to “reactivate her campaign,” or concede and then withdraw, with bitterness sure to result.
“I don’t see her out picking up signs,” Young said.
Whoever wins the election will likely have to reach out to Blocker-Adams, who has been a well-known figure in Augusta business, media and political circles for years, he said.
“She’s still relevant to this community,” Young said.
Retired Georgia Regents University political science professor Ralph Walker predicted “that Helen will probably be in the runoff,” an ironic detail in Augusta elections.
“History in Richmond County has been the second-place finisher usually wins the runoff, but I don’t think that will happen this time,” Walker said.
While the typical resident probably isn’t paying much attention to the drama surrounding Tuesday’s race, Blocker-Adams’ role in the final result will no doubt create “the sore losers” so prevalent in Augusta politics, Walker said.
“Richmond County politics are so interesting,” he said.
Augusta resident James Taylor said the choice was quick and easy for him – the news reports led him to switch support from Blocker-Adams to Davis.
“We don’t need anybody who can’t handle their finances running the city,” Taylor said.
Commissioner Marion Williams, who is heavily involved in several campaigns including that of mayoral candidate Alvin Mason, said behind-the-scenes efforts to expose Blocker-Adams’ financial issues might have backfired on Davis supporters, who expected Davis and Blocker-Adams to wind up in a runoff.
“They did it a little too quick,” Williams said. “If they’re helping anybody, they’re helping Mason … I think it’s going to be a runoff between Alvin and Hardie.”
Barbara Gordon, whose Metro Courier newspaper endorsed Mason for mayor, called for Blocker-Adams to stay in the race “to be fair to the people that supported her.” Gordon organized a rally Sunday to demand that the “unwarranted attacks must stop.”
Young said critics of the news reports about Blocker-Adams should remember “this was all a matter of public record.”
Commissioner Grady Smith, a Davis supporter, said Blocker-Adams “ought to be demanded to drop out” of the mayor’s race.
“How could I, as a commissioner, have any respect for her? I pay all my bills. I don’t owe anybody anything,” he said.
Smith’s opponent for the Super District 10 commission seat, Brandon Dial, said the entire situation “will further erode public confidence in government” as voters grow both disgusted and uncertain their votes will count.
Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey estimated that turnout Tuesday would be between 20 and 30 percent of the city’s 100,000 registered voters.
Charles Cummings, the only mayoral candidate to respond to a request for comment, said Blocker-Adams’ troubles would have come out eventually.
“(She) brought it on herself, I think,” he said. Despite what’s in the media, “people know who you are and they know what you represent,” Cummings said.