Editor's note: An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported the district seat sought by candidate Cleveland O'Steen.
The slate of District 1 Augusta Commission hopefuls shrank by one on Monday with the withdrawal of water works employee Thelonious Jones.
Jones, who revealed his plans after speaking at a West Augusta Neighborhood Alliance candidates forum, said there was “too much division in the community and I don’t want to be a part of it.” He said he could probably do more for the community through his job than by getting elected “where people still have the mindset of yesteryear.”
Jones became the second candidate to drop out of the District 1 race. Harrisburg activist Lori Davis, who doubles as president of the alliance, withdrew from the race before the August qualifying, also citing division in the community.
On Monday, Davis said Commissioner Matt Aitken, the District 1 incumbent, declined an invitation to the forum, as did District 7 candidate Donnie Smith. District 9 commission candidates were not invited, Davis said, in a decision made by the alliance board when she was not in attendance.
Aitken’s remaining opponents for the District 1 seat include former Laney Walker Neighborhood Association President Stanley Hawes, Augusta Green Party founder Denice Traina and retired health educator Bill Fennoy, all of whom touted their goals for the city at the forum.
“Every day I hear from Augustans that they’re tired of commissioners’ tit-for-tat,” District 3 candidate Mary Davis said.
Her opponent, Ed Enoch, said he had watched government transform for the better while serving as attorney for the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority.
“Put deals together, that’s what I do for a living,” Enoch said.
District 7 hopeful Ken Echols vowed he “will never vote to raise taxes” and promised his 12 years on the Richmond County Board of Education provided only “good political baggage.”
Cleveland O’Steen, who is also running for the District 3 seat, cited his experience as an educator and his previous political experience.
His and Echols’ opponent, Smith, was speaking at a larger engagement for members of a carpenters union, he said after the forum. Both Echols and Smith invoked the memory of the victims of Sept. 11, 2001.
The forum also provided the few dozen in attendance an opportunity to hear both candidates for the District 1 Richmond County Board of Education post speak to the system’s problems.
Incumbent Marion Barnes differed with the moderator on whether the system was trailing others.
“If you remember each year the bar goes up, and we go up with the bar. We don’t go up as fast as the bar,” Barnes said, citing staff development and more school days as the best ways to improve schools.
Barnes’ challenger, Lucien Williams, said the problem was “not something we can throw money at,” but “setting policy without raising taxes.”