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Racial balance on commission broken

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It seemed like an impossibility three months ago during qualifying -- a white candidate emerging victorious in the race for Betty Beard's seat on the Augusta Commission.

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Matt Aitken (left) and his campaign manager, Ed Presnell, celebrate as the final results come in declaring him the winner.  Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Matt Aitken (left) and his campaign manager, Ed Presnell, celebrate as the final results come in declaring him the winner.

It's a seat representing a district that's 65 percent black, which has never had a white commissioner since city-county consolidation. First it was held by Lee Beard, then by his widow.

But on Tuesday, voters propelled political newcomer Matt Aitken, a 51-year-old compressor building operator for Olin Corp., over a color barrier that's kept five commission seats white and five seats black for the past 14 years. In the District 1 runoff, he defeated former Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority member Bill Fennoy with 53.73 percent of the vote.

When all the votes had been posted at every precinct but two, and Mr. Aitken's reception at the Historic Richmond Hotel became a victory party, he slapped a high five to campaign manager Ed Presnell as the crowd began chanting, "Matt! Matt! Matt!" then, "Hard work! Hard work!"

"You talk about the end of an era, this is the end of an era," said attorney Joe Neal, a supporter of District 1 candidate Butch Palmer in the general election who followed him over to the Aitken camp. "The machine is dead. The machine's over."

"Augusta has spoken," Mr. Aitken said in his victory speech. "Not only District 1, but Augusta has spoken."

He spoke of the time he spent in prison on drug charges 19 years ago, how God changed his life and how it's going to take the power of God to change the city. He spoke of a need for healing, extending an offer to join forces with Mr. Fennoy's supporters and start "bridging gaps."

He thanked Mr. Palmer for endorsing him and actively campaigning for him, said the city needs to address chronic nuisance properties and repeated his platform points about spurring economic development.

"There's going to be some tough decisions ahead for Matt Aitken, but I think the Lord has prepared me for a day such as this," Mr. Aitken said. "I'm going to need your love even more. I'm going to need your prayers even more."

Arriving at his election-night party at the Modjeska Theatre & Bar, Mr. Fennoy said he was more disappointed with the number of people who voted than with the results.

Tuesday's turnout was 25 percent, 6 percent better than District 1's turnout in the Nov. 3 general election, when Mr. Aitken surpassed expectations by placing first out of four candidates with 40 percent of the vote.

With all precincts counted Tuesday, Mr. Aitken had 1,657 votes to Mr. Fennoy's 1,427. As in the general election, turnout was once again the key.

In the two largest white precincts, 101 and 107, voter turnout was 35 percent and 39 percent, respectively. In the two largest black precincts, 103 and 104, turnout was 22 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

Precinct 107 (Julian Smith Casino) provided the cushion that Mr. Aitken needed to pull off the upset, winning in a district where black registered voters outnumber their white counterparts almost 2 to 1. In the general election, Mr. Aitken won precinct 107 by a net difference of 268 votes against Mr. Fennoy. On Tuesday, he increased the margin by 169 votes.

Mr. Aitken won seven precincts in the runoff, one more than his total in the general election.

Asked whether he has any regrets about his campaign, Mr. Fennoy said, "No. I think I ran a good race. It's just difficult to get people out to vote."

Asked whether he regrets that race was injected into the campaign, he said the media injected race into the campaign more so than he.

Mr. Fennoy said the low turnout shows people are disenchanted with government. He said he was not saying the results indicated a racial vote, but if you look at the precincts Mr. Aitken won, they were "dominated by the white residents of Richmond County.

"And we weren't able to get the black votes out," he said.

Mr. Fennoy said he hopes Mr. Aitken does a good job as commissioner, listening to the people of District 1 and addressing their concerns.

Staff writer Mike Wynn and correspondent Sylvia Cooper contributed to this article.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

POLLING PLACE Aitken Fennoy
101 Asbury United Methodist Church, 1305 Troupe St. 350 24
102 Crawford Avenue Baptist Church, 507 Crawford Ave. 137 62
103 Dyess Park, 902 James Brown Blvd. 27 264
104 Eastview Recreation Center, 644 Aiken Ave. 87 509
105 Second Mount Moriah Church, 1404 Brown St. 2 88
106 Julian Smith Casino, 2200 Broad St. 91 47
107 Julian Smith Casino, 2200 Broad St. 538 101
108 Covenant Presbyterian Church, 3131 Walton Way 23 67
109 May Park, 708 Fourth St. 56 25
110 Peabody Apartments, 1452 Walton Way 30 30
111 Paine College, Gilbert Lambuth Chapel, 1235 Druid Park Ave. 105 58
112 St. John Towers, 724 Greene St. 153 51
113 May Park, 708 Fourth St. 58 101
TOTALS 1657 1427

REACTIONS

"Augusta has spoken."

- Matt Aitken

"We weren't able to get the black votes out."

- Bill Fennoy

"It was too high stakes and just got too racial."

- Stanley Hawes, president of Laney-Walker Development Association

"Mr. Aitken is the one they chose and hopefully he will get in and do a good job."

- Calvin Holland, district city commissioner

"It proves a good white candidate can win in a minority district, and people of District 1 are tired of the same old rhetoric. They want some change." - Dave Barbee, Republican Party leader

"The tone of the campaign did a lot to help him win it. ... I think people are just tired of having the 'race card' played."

- Bob Young, former mayor

"It's a new day in Augusta."

- Helen Blocker-Adams, former mayoral candidate

Comments (258) Add comment
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Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 12/02/09 - 04:07 am
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Let's hope he's worth the

Let's hope he's worth the money.

concernednative
28
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concernednative 12/02/09 - 05:10 am
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Augusta get ready for

Augusta get ready for corporate welfare to a few movers and shakers of Augusta. We will see Deke's true colors as he takes care of the inlaws and their associates. He didn't show his hand because he didn't have the votes in the past. Sit back and watch the Graham and Deke show.

Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 12/02/09 - 05:36 am
0
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For what its worth.. atleast

For what its worth.. atleast the the 5-5 split on the commission did keep a lot of unnecessary pork barrel projects from getting our tax money. All I can say now is that taxpayers are going to have to be very watchful and attend as many commission meetings as possible. We are going to need citizen action groups to keep an eye on things and protest when this commission gets out of control.

smartie
0
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smartie 12/02/09 - 05:42 am
0
0
oh yeah! here we go! yeah,

oh yeah! here we go! yeah, yeah, the 5-5 split has worked great for years.

wildman
1075
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wildman 12/02/09 - 05:53 am
0
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Augusta, thanks for the

Augusta, thanks for the entertainment. This will be fun to watch.

Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 12/02/09 - 05:55 am
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just saying that in many

just saying that in many cases the black commissioners did give much needed scrutiny to taxpayer funded boondoggles like The TEE Center, Billy Barn, etc. Perhaps their motivations were selfish but the nonetheless the scrutiny was needed, especially when millions of tax dollars are at stake. What i fear now is a commission that will simply steamroll along every special interest taxpayer giveway with little or no discussion. That seems to be the norm... a consent agenda, where most business is not even debated. I frankly do not want a government where there is no debate, especially when millions of tax dollars are at stake. I want tough questions to be asked, and every dollar scrutinized, biut it seems in Augusta you are called an onstructionist for doing that.

wizzardx1
0
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wizzardx1 12/02/09 - 05:59 am
0
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fennoy thinks that blacks

fennoy thinks that blacks should have voted for him simply because he is black."We weren't able to get the black votes out".THAT is racism to the nth degree.

LolaJean
1
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LolaJean 12/02/09 - 06:01 am
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True Wizzard, but because

True Wizzard, but because he's black, he can say what he wants. Congrats Mr. Aitken!

johnston.cliff
2
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johnston.cliff 12/02/09 - 06:25 am
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If a person becomes informed

If a person becomes informed about the candidates and the problems in the district that each candidate can, and will, address, then color means a lot less than it does in general conversation. Fennoy represented no change from the status quo and has the record to prove it. The voters aren't as stupid as the race pimps think they are, at least not the ones interested enough to show up for the run off vote. The 5-5 split is no longer an excuse. I'm interested in what the commission will do now.

sdrwtcn
0
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sdrwtcn 12/02/09 - 06:50 am
0
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I think the town does okay as

I think the town does okay as long as certain folks keep their mouths shut. You see the result!

thewiz0oz
9
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thewiz0oz 12/02/09 - 06:55 am
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Greater Augusta is more than

Greater Augusta is more than Augusta the city. Our multi-county trade area is unique with its quality of life, recreational venues, the arts, medical resources, educational opportunities, historical assets & low cost of living. Unfortunately, a popular tactical sport has been to beat up on the City of Augusta because of the leadership void that has put race ahead of competence. Hopefully, this election will be the beginning of the end for race dominating our political scene. Perhaps, Augusta, the epic center of the C.S.R.A will be able to provide the leadership that will cross racial, political & geographical lines to unite our trade area for a common goal. We are one community & in the same boat together. If the City of Augusta's end starts to sink the other end will soon follow. Even one Thanksgiving turkey got a reprieve from the President - maybe Greater Augusta got one Tuesday from the voters in the City's district one.

Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 12/02/09 - 07:12 am
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Yeah.. it's as unique as say

Yeah.. it's as unique as say Tupelo.
Note to the black community... stop running political hacks if you want to win these elections. Find some new, younger blood, with some progressive ideas that will motivate people to show up and vote.

MyChronicleUserAccount
0
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MyChronicleUserAccount 12/02/09 - 07:13 am
0
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at least we are not like

at least we are not like atlanta, hehe, this is an atlantan Face Book post about their election-look her up: Aliscia C. Hicklen-we don't want mary to win because we don't want caucasian people trying to change what call Atlanta. I am one who loves Atlanta the way it is, And we don't need no coming in trying to take this city away from black people. I have heard alot of white people saying we need to put Mary in there because we don't this city known as the "ATL" or a place for rap artists. No matter what, Atlanta is and always will be called the ATL. So if you don't like it, then move to another state or city. But stop trying to change what great city the black people created by bringing in country bama to run the city! Kasim for Mayor!

smartie
0
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smartie 12/02/09 - 07:18 am
0
0
yeah, that's brilliant,

yeah, that's brilliant, mychronicle. if that one's registered to vote, makes me believe their should be an aptitude test to get a voter registration card.

Dixieman
14415
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Dixieman 12/02/09 - 07:18 am
0
0
6-4!

6-4!

MyChronicleUserAccount
0
Points
MyChronicleUserAccount 12/02/09 - 07:20 am
0
0
Dixieman, can we get bumper

Dixieman, can we get bumper stickers.......Stick it to em.....

sdrwtcn
0
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sdrwtcn 12/02/09 - 07:21 am
0
0
Tupelo??? Emery are you

Tupelo??? Emery are you trying to disparage our great place in the Dirty South. We can be more racist than Tupelo any day!

ispy4u
0
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ispy4u 12/02/09 - 07:36 am
0
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There goes Lola Jeans with

There goes Lola Jeans with her voice of reason @5:01 AM.I can see now where my post from yesterday was wrong. LOL

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 12/02/09 - 07:39 am
0
0
OK .. so we are trying to say

OK .. so we are trying to say that we need to move beyond racial polarization in our local politics.. and I wake up to see things like 6-4.. and "racial balance broken." all over the Chronicle. Yeah that's a good way to move beyond race. So I guess all six white commissioners will vote in lockstep as will the 4 black commissioners.. so really nothing changes except some basic math.

LolaJean
1
Points
LolaJean 12/02/09 - 07:49 am
0
0
There goes Lola Jeans with

There goes Lola Jeans with her voice of reason @5:01 AM.I can see now where my post from yesterday was wrong. LOL
Posted by ispy4u on Wed Dec 2, 2009 6:36 AM..Ispy, this a tough day for you, I'm sure. However, please read Mr. Fennoy's statement and mine and tell me what I said that was racist. Mr. Fennoy just came out slapped all of his district in the face, by saying, "we werent able to get the black folks out". It was all about the color of the voter's skin for him. Can anyone imagine a white guy saying, I couldnt get enough of the white folks out. Now Ispy give me a good and logical argument, after you stop crying about the racist being defeated yesterday.

sdrwtcn
0
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sdrwtcn 12/02/09 - 07:54 am
0
0
with one sheet tied behind

with one sheet tied behind our backs!!!

MyChronicleUserAccount
0
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MyChronicleUserAccount 12/02/09 - 08:03 am
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0
I wonder which mistress Tiger

I wonder which mistress Tiger is going to bring to the Masters next year.....maybe he could bring all three and share his wealth. Typical.

Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 12/02/09 - 08:12 am
0
0
I watched Johnny Edwards'

I watched Johnny Edwards' videos with both candidates.. and whereas Aitken did not openly say he was looking to turnout the "white vote", he did talk about "strategic campaigning" and going after the votes in the precincts where he knew he would do well. And of course abstaining from all of the forums in the black neighborhoods.. because it was not "strategically beneficial" to the campaign. So let's not all play naive and act like both sides don't play this game.. It's just Mr Fennoy was less tactful in how he addressed it.

Irish
0
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Irish 12/02/09 - 08:15 am
0
0
Why is Tigers trist of more

Why is Tigers trist of more concern than the White House Waltz Mr. Clinton carried on for eight years ......It's just sex...isn't that what we were told . Get over it ...It won't affect his game which is what I tune in to see. Why Rush to judgement just yet.....After all what he does doesn't affect national security or my income one bit. I personally wouldn't have an affair because the lovely and gracious Mrs. Irish would probably go all Lorraina Bobbitt on me ....but that's just my personal deciscion....... besides at my age playing around means going 18 holes.......

SoonerorLater
0
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SoonerorLater 12/02/09 - 08:17 am
0
0
Fenoy still brings race into

Fenoy still brings race into it stating that they did not get the black vote out. How about he just LOST by not getting enough votes, the ballot box should be black/white but who can do the best job and is the most qualified.

joebowles
104
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joebowles 12/02/09 - 08:22 am
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Emerydan, You are completely

Emerydan, You are completely wrong about strategic campaigning. It has to do with focusing on historical data and which individual voters returns to the polls, not race. This is where Matt focused his marketing and campaigning. It had nothing to do with race. It dealt strictly with voters likely to retrun to the polls, both white and black. Lets get over the Black/White issue it is almost 2010, not 1910.

Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 12/02/09 - 08:26 am
0
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sooner.. that's a nice

sooner.. that's a nice sentiment but ignores reality.. If you look at the precinct breakdown.. this vote fell heavily along racial lines. There was no seismic shift in racial voting patterns in this race. Some may try to spin this as some monumental moment of a white candidate getting support in a largely black district. But what clearly happened here was that the heavily white precincts turned out in much greater numbers than the heavily black precincts. At Julian Smith (107) you had a turnout at almost 40% which was nearly twice the avg overall. This is a pattern in Augusta though. Unless there is a major race of the ballot, such as president or governor, then black voters in Augusta tend not to show up in great numbers. This is why you can be assured there will be a move afoot to hold city elections coinciding with presidential or gubernatorial elections.

sdrwtcn
0
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sdrwtcn 12/02/09 - 08:27 am
0
0
Mr. Aitken wasn,t about to be

Mr. Aitken wasn,t about to be hangin out in the bottom.

2tired2argueanymore
1
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2tired2argueanymore 12/02/09 - 08:42 am
0
0
I only wish that we could

I only wish that we could have some hispanics or orientals represented in these races. Augusta has always been about black and white. Some of the people on here are too childish to be using their computer without adult supervision. I think blacks and whites are both tired of Augusta not growing. This election has been filled with the same old racist replies as always. When groups come to gether to try and make a stand for the black candidate because the other one is white it is racist and the same holds true for the other side. The part that makes it worse is that these people were supposed to be men of God and as such should not be concerned with the color of a persons skin. Atlanta has proven its true colors with the same kind of response. I hope that the other races in Augusta will come forward and take leadership roles and help us all to push forward with a color blind agenda.

Just_Visiting
0
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Just_Visiting 12/02/09 - 08:46 am
0
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I do not consider myslef a

I do not consider myslef a resident of Augusta. Although I live and work here now I am on the fence if I will stay. I have been evaluating the city and the area and not very pleased with what the future holdscanidate . I spent 14 years in Orlando and did participate in my government. I lived in a challenged neighborhood and saw minority after minority win because of color and yet no changes got done. My vote has never been about color but about the candidate and their views.

Augusta, you cannot complain about how this city-county is managed if you are not participating in the system. We are a government of representation and our voice can only be heard in our action. If you don't like what you have seen, get out and vote. Voting is a right that no one can take from you except yourself and your own actions.

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