Originally created 07/18/02

Report may fade before election



A searing special grand jury report released last week likely will be a cold issue come election time, according to a local political expert.

Top mayoral candidates say they tend to agree.

"That's hot news this week, but next week it will be something else," said Ralph Walker, a professor emeritus of political science at Augusta State University.

The special grand jury report, released July 9, criticizes the city's fire department underthen-Chief Ronnie Few over questionable spending, unfair personnel practices and political cronyism. Despite the critical tone of the report, it's unlikely voters will remember it at the polls in three months, Dr. Walker said.

"There's a long time yet before the election, and there will be other issues coming up," he said. "The American voter is funny. They don't pay a whole lot of attention to an election until maybe the last 30 days."

In the meantime, mayoral candidates are frantically raising money for what is expected to be one of the mostly hotly contested races on November ballots.

According to campaign contribution disclosure reports, due to the board of elections earlier this month, Mayor Bob Young and former state Rep. Robin Williams appear to be the front-runners in fund raising.

A disclosure report for candidate Brian Green has not yet been received by the Richmond County Board of Elections. Mr. Green, contacted at his home Wednesday, said that he had one new contribution to report but that he had misplaced his receipts, delaying the mailing of his form. He reported having $250 on hand in his previous March 31 disclosure report.

"I'm doing some regrouping," he said. "I had to make a few changes on my staff structurization."

Mr. Young, who has the most money on hand, said that the grand jury's report may affect campaign issues but that he believes it's still "really early in the campaign."

"We'll have to wait and see," he said.

According to the latest disclosure reports, Mr. Young has a $90,305.87 net balance in his campaign coffers, compared with Mr. Williams' $20,846.20 net balance.

More money is to be expected from an incumbent, according to Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. But Mr. Williams, he said, appears to be "within shouting range."

"If you're within shouting range, you're doing well," Dr. Bullock said.

Where candidates' money is coming from could make a difference, however.

All but about $3,100 of Mr. Young's contributions came from within Richmond County, while nearly half - $16,250 - of Mr. Williams' donations were from outside Augusta, mostly from Columbia County.

"Raising money from outside (Augusta), they can't vote," Dr. Bullock said. "But their money will spend just as well to get the message out."

The same disclosure reports also show that Mr. Williams has raised and spent more money in the past three months than Mr. Young has during the same period. Since April, Mr. Williams has collected $41,276 in contributions, compared with $26,507 raised by Mr. Young; his reporting expenditures during the past three months total $20,429, compared with Mr. Young's $16,536.

Mr. Williams' money was spent mostly on consulting, radio ads and campaign event costs. Mr. Young reported that his expenditures mostly were for advertising and direct mailings.

"We're going to spend what it takes to run a credible campaign," Mr. Young said.

Mr. Williams has said he expects to spend about $200,000, most of which will go toward television advertising.

He said he has no plans to "pick apart" the grand jury report as part of his campaign message, in part, because he believes the presentment speaks for itself.

"The report is just kind of a visual effect of what's going on in this city," Mr. Williams said. "Our campaign will be what we ought to do to get out of this situation, unite the community and move forward with leadership."

COFFERS

According to records on file at the Richmond County Board of Elections office, the only two mayoral candidates to raise money for their campaigns during the past three months are Mayor Bob Young and challenger Robin Williams.

A campaign disclosure report for candidate Brian Green has not been received by the elections office, and announced candidates Bobby Ross and Andrew Jefferson have pulled out of the race, having collected nothing.

According to disclosure reports for the period of April 1 to June 30, candidates reported the following:

Bob Young (incumbent)

Contributions: $26,507

Expenditures: $16,536

Net balance: $90,305.87

Robin Williams

Contributions: $41,276

Expenditures: $20,429.80

Net balance: $20,846.20

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.