It was late afternoon at the Huddle House on Georgia Highway 56 near Bobby Jones Expressway when Augusta mayoral candidate Bob Young arrived.
Everybody knows him from his years on radio station WBBQ and WJBF-TV (Channel 6). You might say he's a local celebrity.
He worked the afternoon coffee club crowd at the counter first and then moved around the dining room like a pro, shaking hands and passing out brochures and tickets to his "Get Out the Vote" gospel concert at Regency Mall on Thursday.
Several people said they will vote for him. The young woman behind the counter later followed him outside to get more brochures and tickets.
The men at the counter didn't want to go out on a limb about who would win.
"That's hard to say now," said Sharkey Krome. "It'll be a runoff. It'll be a runoff. Probably between him and (Mayor Larry) Sconyers."
"I just told him Bob Young would probably be the next mayor," said Ed Fredericks.
Lou, who declined to give his last name, said it didn't matter who was elected it would be the "same old thing."
"There ain't going to be no improvement in the government whatsoever," he said. "It don't matter who gets elected. It ain't going make no difference."
Mr. Young disagrees. That's why he's running. And that's why he's targeted Mr. Sconyers in his campaign advertisements for sleeping on the job, he said.
And the first thing he would do is restore -- or instill -- a sense of confidence in the government, he said.
"I want to say restore, but I don't think a sense of confidence has ever been instilled in the consolidated government."
The key is communication, starting with the mayor and commissioners and ending with the government being responsive to the needs of the people, he said.
"We can't even get the litter picked up, get the lots cut," Mr. Young said. "The whole town is looking dirty. Can't even get the weeds pulled. Stuff like that. This summer, we couldn't even move water around the city.
"Can people have confidence in their government when you can't get basic services done and needs met? Can they have confidence in their government when government leaders go into a room and harangue for four and five and six hours and really don't have a lot to show for it when the meeting's over? I just don't see that people do. I don't."
Earlier in the day, Mr. Young was on his way to put up a yard sign at a house on Lake Terrace Drive, near Lake Olmstead. He was upbeat.
"I feel good about things," he said. "I feel real good about the campaign two weeks out. We've been building slowly. Somebody told me this weekend who knows a few things about politics -- he said, `I think your campaign is starting to take off.'
"It's encouraging to hear that. But I've found out during this campaign, as you might expect, people like to tell you what they think you want to hear.
"People mean well. I don't think they're trying to be malicious, but you really always wonder, well, what is the mood of the voters? What is going on now? Where do you really stand?"
A month or so ago, state Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, told The Augusta Chronicle the campaign would be clean until the first polls results came out around the middle of October, and the candidates who were behind would start slinging mud.
If that is true, Mr. Young must be doing well because a campaign to smear him is under way. Anonymous letters containing "lies" and "malicious rumors" about Mr. Young and his wife, Gwen, have been mailed throughout Augusta, he said.
The letters say Mrs. Young has been married 10 times and that the real reason he's running is to benefit her real-estate business.
"Gwen has been married to the same number of men that the mayor has had wives," Mr. Young bristled. "And that's a fact. But it's not an issue. It's not relevant to the campaign. He's been married five times. But it's not part of the political process.
"That's the way politics is played in Augusta. And that's why I'm running because that's not the way you do politics. You don't get people elected by spreading lies and rumors on the street. That's not the way you pick leadership. That's the way you perpetuate a system that's politically and morally corrupt."
He picked up a church bulletin with a quotation from Psalms.
"Read that right there," he said.
"They will not be afraid of any evil rumors. Their heart is right. They put their trust in the Lord."
Mr. Sconyers' said he has had three wives, not five, and that neither he nor anyone in his camp is responsible for the letters. He said he deplores negative campaign tactics.
"I was telling somebody the other day about the ads they've got about me on the radio," he said. "That's not right. I go to these forums and try to stick to the eight issues in my platform, and all they do is attack me."
Candidate Moses Todd also said he had "nothing whatsoever" to do with the mailings.
At Missy Lever's house, Mr. Young put up one of his red, white and blue signs.
"This will tickle my grandson to death," said Missy's mother, Angela Lever. "He's a Bob Young fan anyway."
After giving Mrs. Lever some bumper stickers and tickets to the gospel show, Mr. Young drove his white Expedition to Chestnut Street in the inner city.
"It's hard to knock on doors at this time of day because so many people are at work, but I like to work the inner city," he said. "I just ride down the street and see people sitting on porches and stop and say hello."
And he did.
"Hi there," he said, walking up onto a porch. "I'm Bob Young. I'm running for mayor. I'd appreciate your vote on November third."
"We know him from the news," said Bernice Williams. "We like him on the news. We like him for the weather and the news, you know. He's good on the news."
"On January first, I'll be making some news, some good news," Mr. Young said. "Get down here and get this neighborhood cleaned up."
"Oh, OK," said Ms. Williams.
"The neighborhood is in such decline," Mr. Young said. "This is an embarrassment to a city like Augusta. There's such a need for minimum standard housing in this city. And our solution is we come in here and tear them down, and we have a patchwork of empty lots. We need a program to get houses back in here."
The next stop was at Holmes Grocery and Deli at Chestnut Street and Johnson Avenue.
The owner Marshall Holmes said he thought Mr. Young was the right man for the job.
"He's wide awake. He's not like somebody else," said Mr. Holmes.
"There are some places with real nice houses in here, and you turn a corner and it's blighted," said Mr. Young as he headed toward south Augusta.
At Young Forrest Drive off Windsor Spring Road he put up another sign across the street from a house with two of Mr. Sconyers' signs in the yard.
"This is real work, running for office," he said. "When you get out and do it yourself, it's real work."
As he drove across Peach Orchard Road toward Bobby Jones Expressway, Mr. Young smiled and said, "See my billboard. When you pull out of the top of this restaurant up here, (Sconyers Bar-B-Que) you can see my billboard. And when you go out the backside of the restaurant and go down Richmond Hill Road to Lumpkin, you can see my billboard."
There was one important question left to ask before entering the Huddle House.
Why would he give up his news anchor job to go into politics?
He denied he was going into politics or changing careers. He's in it to win but if he doesn't, he'll "find a job somewhere," he said.
"This is where I live. This is where my family is. I love this city. And I want to see consolidation work. I want to see this city grow. I want to see it become Georgia's premier city. And that's why I'm willing to walk away from my career and offer myself as the mayor. It's a continuation of the work I've done in 26 years of broadcasting. I just see this as an extension of that."
As part of The Augusta Chronicle's series on mayoral candidate profiles, we asked each candidate to state their promises to voters. The newspaper expects to check up on the winner's promises after the election.
Here are Bob Young's promises:
-- I promise an honest, open government.
-- I promise a hard working mayor who will work full time to be the mayor of Augusta.
-- I promise immediate attention to a number of needs that I see in this community. Among them are an economic development program -- how to get a program developed and move forward with it -- strengthening our neighborhoods, neighborhood cleanups, code enforcements and those type things; our infrastructure, water, sewer, drainage, the libraries, recreation, all those things that are involved in quality of life and necessities of life.
-- Safe neighborhoods is another thing. I want to work very closely with the sheriff on crime prevention programs. I think there's a role for the mayor in that.
-- I want to help instill a new attitude in Augusta, so we all feel good about our community. We can all share in the progress and prosperity that we're going to get here. I want to see the consolidation process completed. I want to see those economies and efficiencies I know we can get from consolidation.
-- I think it's critical that we develop a growth-management plan for south Richmond County -- actually for the whole county -- but more importantly right now for south Richmond County because that's where the growth is headed. We've got to have orderly and managed growth in south Richmond County. There's no question about it, the people out there see the need. They're pleading for it. I think we need to give that some immediate attention.
Sylvia Cooper covers Richmond County government for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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