Originally created 11/28/02

Race still divides at polls

In his victory speech Tuesday night, a re-elected Mayor Bob Young spoke of fixing what is broken and divided in Augusta's city government, and of bringing the community together from east to west, from downtown to the southside.

Three weeks ago, on the same stage at the recently renovated Old Richmond Hotel Convention Center, Randy Hall delivered a similar message of unity after unseating state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker in the general election.

But both races show that, in choosing who should be its leaders, Augusta's population remains splintered by skin color. In a population that's 50 percent black and 46 percent white, recent elections pitting white candidates against black candidates have ended in results teetering around 50-50.

Both the mayor's race and the Senate District 22 elections were slim victories for white candidates - a 51.65 percent margin for Mr. Young and a 50.35 percent margin for Mr. Hall. A look at each race shows that victory depended on heavy support from majority-white precincts.

And whereas Mr. Hall managed to siphon black votes from Mr. Walker, between the general election and Tuesday's runoff, Mr. Young lost votes from all but one of the precincts where 75 percent or more registered voters are black. At the same time, his opponent, former Mayor Ed McIntyre, gained votes in majority-white precincts.

When Mr. Young defeated Mr. McIntyre four years ago by a 55.34 percent margin, he ran strongest in west Augusta and the Hill precincts. This time, he again took the majority-white precincts, and Mr. McIntyre took the majority-black precincts.

The two faced off three weeks ago with three other candidates in the mix: Robin Williams, Bonnie Ruben and Bobby Ross. Mr. McIntyre earned 40 percent of the vote, and Mr. Young won 38 percent.

In Tuesday's runoff, Mr. Young received 4,367 more votes than he did in the general election. Seventy-nine percent of his gains came from absentee ballots and precincts where 75 percent or more of the registered voters were white.

Mr. McIntyre's gain Tuesday was 1,739 votes - 63 percent from absentee ballots and precincts where 75 percent or more registered voters were black.

Asked Wednesday about the voter demographics, Mr. Young said the race was about him vs. Mr. McIntyre, and does not mean the black community does not support him. People voting along racial lines is nothing new, he said.

Mr. McIntyre did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Mr. Young said in the coming years he will continue his work on issues that concern the black community, such as creating jobs and affordable housing. Mr. Young was instrumental in starting the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp.

"I think the election was divided along racial lines. I don't think the city is," Mr. Young said.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.


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