His wife and daughter by his side, Aitken read a speech detailing the economic development taking place in District 1, which spans Harrisburg, downtown and east Augusta and the city’s medical and industrial districts.
Aitken cited the merger of Augusta State University with Georgia Health Sciences University, incoming Starbucks and Rockwood pigment plants, the sale of Fort Discovery and increasing private interest in the city’s Pension property, a new sales-tax funded gymnasium at Paine College, a “new urban grocery store” on 15th Street and even demolition of Laney Walker Supper Club to make way “for a new city building” among recent advances taking place in District 1.
“I love breathing life into our district,” Aitken said. “The concentration of leadership, creativity and infrastructure in District 1 should be lifted up and not restricted.”
Even the Legacy at Walton Oaks, the new mixed-income housing development where Aitken made the announcement, is a symbol of “transformation” taking place in east Augusta.
“Behind us stands a rich history of hope and darkness,” Aitken said of the complex, which stands on the former site of Underwood Homes, a housing project built in 1971 named for Augusta Housing Authority employee Cleo Underwood.
The first phase of the mixed-income development is full of senior citizens as construction continued on a nearby second phase. No Walton Oaks residents attended Aitken’s announcement.
Aitken, who is white and surprised many in 2009 when he won the majority-black District 1 post, drew a biracial crowd of supporters that included members of the Dream Angels female biker and mentoring group, jazz musician Karen Gordon and Larry Cone, pastor at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.
“I find Matt to be a man of integrity with a love for people in his heart, people of all colors,” Cone said. “We need more togetherness.”
Aitken supporter Heather DiCicco pointed to Walton Oaks as indicative of the commissioner’s vision and complimented his character.
“He really is a man of values. He has character. A lot of it is just trusting a person. Any politician can do anything behind closed doors when nobody’s looking,” DiCicco said.
Backed by Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles and Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who attended the announcement, Aitken has at least two challengers for the post, including former Laney Walker Neighborhood Association President Stanley Hawes and Harrisburg activist and former mayoral candidate Lori Davis.