Let the barbecues begin.
Qualifying for the Augusta mayor's race opens Monday at 8 a.m and ends at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
The field of committed candidates so far includes:
-- Incumbent Mayor Larry Sconyers.
-- Augusta Commissioner Moses Todd.
-- WJBF Channel 6 television anchor Bob Young, who took a leave of absence to run.
-- Former Augusta mayor Ed McIntyre.
-- The founder of Wife Saver restaurants in Augusta, George Cunningham.
-- Retired supervisor medical supply technician from the Veterans Administration Elmer Singley.
Retired orthopedic surgeon Charles Freeman Jr. has announced his intentions to run but has not made a final decision, he said Friday.
The acknowledged frontrunners by most experts are Mr. Sconyers, Mr. Todd, Mr. Young and Mr. McIntyre. But all the candidates have vowed to run clean campaigns and not play racial politics.
And except for Mr. McIntyre all said they'll win without a runoff.
"There'll be no mud slinging, although I may sling a few bricks," Mr. Todd quipped during a photo session Friday.
To win, a candidate must receive 45 percent of the vote. If no candidate receives that percentage, there will be a runoff between the top two vote-getters Nov. 24.
Political analyst Dr. Ralph Walker said so many candidates almost ensures a runoff.
Mr. Sconyers, however, predicts he can win the election outright, especially if all the qualified voters who came to his free fish fry at Julian Smith Barbecue Pit on Aug. 18 vote for him.
"Based on the number of people they said we had -- if they get out and vote -- I think we can win it without a runoff," he said.
About 4,000 people came to the fish fry. And that was a morale booster, he said.
"You know I had heard from sources I was losing ground in certain areas, and if you looked at the kickoff the other night, we had just a great cross-section of people from all areas of the county, the city and county," said the 56-year-old mayor. "There wasn't any one particular area overpowering. It was just a good diversified group of people.
"They said we had 20 percent of the voting public there -- the ones that actually vote."
But just because they eat your fish doesn't mean they'll vote for you, said more than one of Mr. Sconyers' opponents, including Mr. Young.
"There were people at the fish fry from Columbia County and North Augusta," Mr. Young said.
"I understand it was one of the -- if not the largest -- functions ever held at the barbecue pit, and that's good. That sends a message to everybody Larry's in it, and he's serious about running. And I wish him well -- as the runner up."
Mr. Sconyers said he's willing to spend whatever it takes to get re-elected although reports he'd go as high as a quarter-million dollars were exaggerated, he said.
"I wouldn't think it would cost that much, but naturally I want to win, and we'll spend whatever it takes to win," he said.
He expects to draw his strongest support from south Augusta, his home base, he said.
An equally confident Mr. Young said he expects it will take between $75,000 and $150,000 for him to mount a credible campaign, but money's not the issue, he said.
"Dollars aren't going to win the election," he said. "Signs are not going to win the election. Servings of fried fish are not going to win the election. Votes are going to win the election."
Mr. Young, 50, said his campaign will be a non-traditional one in which he and his election committee will raise politics in Richmond County to a higher level.
"What we're trying to do is give them a new way of doing politics here," he said. "You're going to see people who have never been involved in politics in Augusta before. And that's what we feel our attraction is. We don't come with any baggage. We're not the politics of yesterday. We're the politics of today and tomorrow."
Mr. Young said he'll run a colorblind campaign.
"I do not have a black community strategy," he said. "I don't have a white community strategy. I don't have a south Augusta, a west Augusta or downtown strategy. I have a one Richmond County strategy that we're going to carry through on this campaign, and that strategy is going to lead us to victory outright on November third."
Mr. Todd, who has been criticized by some people for not pushing the black agenda hard enough, said he doesn't see color.
"If this criticism is coming from the minority community, and the minority community feel they need someone who has prejudice against the rest of Augusta, then I say they have the wrong man for the job," he said.
"I shall not discriminate based on color, economic status, religion national origin or gender.
"I'm the working man's candidate. The working man pays the taxes. I'm the poor person's candidate. I won't do a great deal of harm to the rich. Don't care what color that poor or rich man is, if someone wants me to care, then they need to vote for someone else."
Mr. Todd, 48, expects to raise between $55,000 and $60,000 and win outright.
"The political bosses are running scared, the good old boys are running scared because they know their days are numbered," said Mr. Todd, who has served on the Augusta Commission for the past six years. "They know when I become mayor, professionals will run this city."
Mr. Todd's term on the Augusta Commission is up today. He tendered his resignation last month to enter the mayor's race.
Dr. Walker predicts either Mr. Sconyers or Mr. Young will face Mr. McIntyre in a runoff.
Mr. Todd will be a factor because of the leadership he showed in this summer's water crisis and his reputation of being outspoken and being his own person, Mr. Walker said.
"Moses will obviously split the black vote with Ed," he said. "He will also get some of the white vote because of his leadership in the water crisis."
Candidates such as Mr. Cunningham, Dr. Freeman and Mr. Singley ensure that nobody will win without a runoff, he said.
And if there is a runoff between the white Mr. Sconyers or Mr. Young and Mr. McIntyre or Mr. Todd, who are black, will the election turn on race?
"I don't really think so," said Dr. Walker. "I don't think it will be racial as much as people are looking for quality leadership."
The candidates, meanwhile, contend they are color blind.
Mr. McIntyre said he doesn't know how much money he'll spend on this year's election or if there will be a runoff, but he knows that race won't be an issue in his campaign.
"I have a history with not making race a part of my campaign," he said. "We should focus on the needs of the community and the solutions to those needs rather than bashing candidates.
"It's too premature to know whether there will be a runoff," Mr. McIntyre said from his Bay Street mortgage office. "We don't even know all the players yet. What I will say is that my supporters and I are concentrated on victory."
In 1983, Mr. McIntyre was convicted of bribery and two counts of extortion for demanding $9,000 from a land developer to influence the purchase of city land.
Mr. McIntyre, 65, says citizens are well aware of the mistake he made 15 years ago, and he just hopes no one holds that against him.
If other candidates want to make an issue of it, he said, "I'm going to let the followers of God let their hearts be their guide."
Instead of laboring over the past, Mr. McIntyre wants to focus attention on accomplishments he made while in office, he said, highlighting development of the riverfront, the Golf Hall of Fame, and the construction of railroad overpasses.
Mr. Cunningham said he's running because he's dissatisfied the consolidated government is no different from the previous governments.
"Now Bob Young's a fine young man, and I have all the respect in the world for him, but I don't have any confidence in Larry Sconyers doing anything but what he's done in the past," Mr. Cunningham said. "And I don't have any confidence in Ed McIntyre being able to pull this thing out and run it like it ought to be run.
"And I think it's done bogged down, and I think somebody's got to get in there with the attitude they don't owe nobody nothing. And I don't want some of these people's $10,000 or $20,000.
Mr. Cunningham said he expects to spend $10,000 to $15,000, most of it his own money, and small contributions.
Mr. Singley, meanwhile, said he is running because he believes he can lead Augusta into the 21st Century, and that he will win without a runoff.
Mr. Singley, 57, said he will draw his support from "diverse groups in the CSRA" and that race won't be a factor.
"My campaign is going to be a diversified effort to unite Augusta," he said.