Originally created 01/31/98

Commissioner's decision leaves questions



Augusta Commissioner Bill Kuhlke's decision not to challenge Mayor Larry Sconyers for his job in this fall's election and former Augusta Mayor Ed McIntyre's decision to try, has people asking:

Will Rob run?

Will Bob run?

Does Moses have a chance?

Can Mr. McIntyre unite the black community to defeat Mr. Sconyers?

Who will Mayor Pro Tem Lee Beard, who is Mr. McIntyre's brother-in-law, support now that he and Mr. Sconyers seem to be working so well together?

Will a credible new face emerge between now and qualifying?

And if no viable white candidate qualifies, does Mr. Sconyers get a free ride back into office while the black vote is split between Mr. McIntyre and Commissioner Moses Todd?

Former District 3 Commissioner Rob Zetterberg said Friday was a very encouraging day for him.

"I've received calls from all over Augusta from people encouraging me to run," he said.

But while Mr. Zetterberg and television station WJBF (Channel 6) anchorman Bob Young try to make up their minds whether to run, some Augusta politicians and politically active residents are already laying odds the contest will be a two-man race with Mr. Sconyers coming out ahead.

State Sen. Charles Walker said that both Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Sconyers have liabilities to overcome -- Mr. McIntyre his 1984 criminal convictions from the last time he was mayor, and Mr. Sconyers his leadership or lack thereof -- but that in the end Mr. Sconyers will prevail.

"There is a perception that Larry has not been an effective leader, but people believe he is honest, and given the help of a competent administrator he will be able to pull through and manage the affairs of the city of Augusta," said Mr. Walker, D-Augusta.

State Sen. Don Cheeks offered a similar opinion.

"I think in the final analysis, even though there is a lot of grumbling and complaining about leadership, most of the people realize he has not had the tools he needed to exert leadership," Mr. Cheeks said.

"And I think we can all think he's been honest as well as fair."

The Augusta legislative delegation will meet with the mayor and commissioners Feb. 11 and discuss some drastic changes to the consolidation law to give the mayor more power to appoint, veto and nominate.

And that might encourage more people to run, said Augusta State University political scientist Ralph Walker.

But if they don't, "it's no big secret two black candidates would split the black vote to a degree," Dr. Walker said.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Ben Allen, D-Augusta, said he thinks Mr. McIntyre would have to do more than just unite the black community and inner city to win. He would have to make inroads into the white community, in west Augusta and south Augusta, where he already has support.

"It is a formidable task, but knowing Mr. McIntyre like I know him, he's up to the task," said Mr. Allen, who called the former mayor "probably the best mayor Augusta has seen."

State Rep. Robin Williams, however, said Mr. McIntyre has made a big mistake.

"I think it's imprudent and wrong for Ed McIntyre to run for mayor because it's the very office in which he was convicted of wrongdoing," said Mr. Williams, R-Augusta. "If he wanted to test the will of the people of Richmond County, he should have chosen another position."

Joseph Goudy, president of Augusta-Richmond County Community Action Committee, had similar views of Mr. McIntyre's decision.

He also said he doubted that Mr. McIntyre could unite the black community because it is still divided over him although he has redeemed himself in some people's opinions.

"That's a big question whether the African-American community will support Mr. McIntyre as a whole," Mr. Goudy said. "It's questionable."

Mr. Goudy also said he thought it was "almost useless" for Mr. Todd to run for mayor.

"Where's he going to get his funding?" he asked. "It takes a lot of funding. You've got to have revenue to run. I think Moses Todd will probably change his mind."

But Mr. Todd said he can win.

"The people believe in me," he said. "If you look at the other two candidates, both of them had two years to do something about jobs and improve people's lives, and they didn't do it."

As for Mr. Beard, he said he did not even know Mr. McIntyre was announcing until he "read it in the paper like everybody else."

"I wish him the best," he said. "He's my brother-in-law, so I will always pull for him. We have not discussed any campaign. He has not asked me to campaign for him. I don't know whether he wants me to play a role in his campaign or not."

Many people said privately that they did not expect Mr. Zetterberg or Mr. Young will run.

Mr. Zetterberg, however, said he's puzzled about why Mr. Sconyers wants to run.

"He doesn't show up for work," he said. "His behavior is of a man who doesn't want to be mayor."

What's surprising to Dr. Walker is that there is so much interest in a race that is eight months away.

He thinks that there will be other candidates and that there is almost certain to be a runoff because it will take 45 percent of the vote, plus one vote, to win.

"If all the candidates they're talking about running run, I don't see how you could avoid a runoff," he said. "It could happen, but I'd be surprised."