Originally created 09/12/99

Phil Kent: Cheek the man to beat; don't ruin the BBQ

Commission races

THE SPRAWLING Augusta-Richmond County Commission's 6th District goes from Blythe over to the Tobacco Road area by Fort Gordon and then winds through Gracewood and eventually over to Mount Vernon. Its commissioner, J.B. Powell, has been playing coy as to whether or not he'll run.

Candidate Andy Cheek confidently says it doesn't make any difference what Powell does. The affable president of the Rollins neighborhood association and 22-year Savannah River Site employee appears to have made all the right moves in already lining up volunteers, assembling a modest campaign fund and publishing detailed platform positions.

Furthermore, bird dog owner Powell is in the doghouse himself over home-work done by the Richmond County Republican Party. A volunteer has compiled commissioners' voting records since Bob Young was elected mayor. Among the 10 commissioners, the 6th District incumbent was found to be the champion when it comes to absences or abstentions. (District 10's Bill Kuhlke had the best voting/attendance record.)

Finally, consider this District 6 scenario: Powell privately wants Cheek to succeed him, but has been saying nothing of his intentions to scare away other candidates. Then, on the last day of candidate qualifying, Cheek emerges as the only qualifier. Or, Powell qualifies, and then later withdraws.

As for District 2, incumbent Freddie Handy still hasn't publicly criticized his son's recent thievery while a city employee. He's also a chronic absentee as well as an adept vote swapper, and has even been seen leaving the Commission chamber to influence or kill a vote -- and then laughingly walking back just intime for the next agenda item.

Handy deserves credible opposition.

In another majority black constituency -- District 4 -- the white vote is being heavily courted by appointed incumbent Richard Colclough and by an increasingly vocal challenger, salesman Brian Green. Others will jump into this slugfest, but that can only strengthen Colclough and dilute the anti-incumbent vote.

South Augusta District 8's Ulmer Bridges is like west Augusta District 10's Kuhlke -- both are conservative Republicans, are popular in their districts and should get little or no opposition.

Three cheers

A big community pat on the back goes to Augusta District Attorney Danny Craig and his staff (in particular, prosecutors Bobby Christine and Scott Connell and behind-the-scenes researcher and strategist Mike Carlson). They conducted a successful prosecution the other day in a tough Jessica Fletcher-type murder case with no body -- The State v. Richardson.

The courtroom drama resulted in the conviction of a defendant who beat a man to death in a jealous rage and then hid the body -- causing the victim's family even more anguish. It featured not only a noteworthy presentation of evidence by Christine and Connell, but underscored tireless (and usually unheralded) work by Sheriff's Department investigators Dwayne Piper and Wayne Pinkston. Their off-duty hours spent assisting the Craig's team preparation made the conviction possible.

Many in the local defense bar are becoming increasingly aware that Craig has finally been able to develop and retain a crack team of assistants who are working overtime to make our streets safer. These are the same streets, by the way, that all of Augusta's defense attorneys (and even permissive judges) call home.

Keep the barbecue

Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce president Jim West said recentlyhis organization was seriously considering ending financial support for the annual legislative barbecue at the Atlanta railroad depot. West complained it cost too much money and there's no control over attendees and their guests (a lot of whom are powerful lobbyists who stroll in off the street).

But the Augusta legislative delegation's "Big Three" -- Speaker Pro Tem Jack Connell, D-Augusta; Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta; and Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta -- sent a resounding message: No!

They're right, of course. What a dumb public relations move ending the barbecue would be. It showcases all of Augusta's political, business, civic and educational leaders -- and the governor even attended this year to get to know Augusta better. (Imagine the Atlanta scuttlebutt: "Augusta's too cheap, or broke, to host a legislative event.")

West thinks, though, that the Chamber and Convention and Visitors Bureau could control attendance by issuing tickets or by billing attendees later. And surely they could garner a few extra thousand bucks for financial support.

Phil Kent is senior editorial writer for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3327 or philkent@augustachronicle.com


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