We've never doubted that Augustans -- all of them -- have a friend in the mayor's office.
It would be nice to have an advocate too, though.
It must be said that even after some four years in office, Mayor Deke Copenhaver is one of the most popular elected officials this town has ever seen. The impact of his gentle hand on the wheel of government has truly surprised and delighted even his biggest supporters. While most of us have been tossed about by waves of racial tension, financial difficulties, petty squabbles and more down at City Hall, the mayor has been a sea of calm, patiently and faithfully staying the course to a brighter future.
Quite simply, his way has worked.
As a result, he has rarely been the subject of public criticism.
As detailed in a Chronicle story Sunday, the mayor's decision to seek a legal opinion on whether he was compelled to allow a gay pride parade downtown June 19 highlighted what, for many, is Copenhaver's biggest flaw: He seems to duck controversy at every turn.
The fact that he sought a legal opinion on the matter isn't particularly momentous, but it's especially telling. Why? Because he knew darn good and well he had to approve the parade. He said as much. And anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of constitutional rights knows it. He just wanted someone else to say it, so as not to be the bad guy among those opposed to the parade.
He wanted to pass the buck, pure and simple.
Again, this is a widely popular mayor with no other significant flaws that we know of. But it's a significant flaw if one chronically retreats from controversy or seeks cover for unpopular decisions.
This would not be an issue, were it not a pattern. It's just that the parade issue criticism finally broke this concern into the open.
Indeed, downtown merchants were, and are, worried that the parade, coming as it does on the Saturday before Father's Day, will impede customer traffic and cost them thousands. They tried to get that word to the mayor, but he washed his hands of it, saying that was between them and the parade organizers. Yet, as we noted last week, the mayor very well could have acted as a go-between to help sort out the problem.
When racial unrest broke out after a police shooting in Cherry Tree Crossing in 2008, he again failed to take a public leadership role -- and essentially wasn't heard from for four days. When citizens and the press repeatedly asked for help getting access to public documents at City Hall over the past few years -- and were able to cite specific, egregious violations of both the spirit and the letter of state open-records laws -- none of us felt as if we had an advocate in Mr. Copenhaver.
Moreover, those of us charged with covering and analyzing events at City Hall can tell you the mayor is swift and sure in his responses to questions when the subject matter is upbeat; in contrast, if it's negative, you sometimes never hear back.
He wasn't available, for instance, to comment for the Sunday story about him.
Again, the mayor is wildly popular, and for good reason: He's a great guy and a good soul. He is a tremendous ambassador for economic development and racial reconcilation. Critcism of him comes only reluctantly.
Still, the main issue for which the mayor has been a vocal, ardent and tireless supporter is baseball legend Cal Ripken's desire for the city to build a newer baseball stadium on the river. It brings to mind the question: Is the mayor a better advocate for Ripken than for the rest of us?
Augusta's form of government gives the mayor no vote and no veto and no hiring and firing authority. His powers, technically speaking, are limited.
But since when has that stopped a leader?