Augusta Mayor Bob Young began his second four-year term of office Friday by calling for a healing of what many have called the city's racial divide.
"Today, we are at a crossroads, and the road we choose to take for the next four years will determine our destiny for generations to come," he said after a swearing-in ceremony outside the Municipal Building on Greene Street.
The city has two distinct choices, Mr. Young said, with one leading to healing, recovery, growth and prosperity.
"This is a road that will indeed bridge gaps, both real and imagined, and the road that will allow us to be more sensitive to the public's needs," he said.
The other road, he said, leads to mediocrity.
"And I'm sure you would agree with me in saying this choice is not an option," he said.
The mayor recounted the city's strengths and assets, such as plentiful water and natural resources, a strong economy and state and federal institutions, including the Medical College of Georgia, Augusta State University, Paine College and Fort Gordon.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we have a city and region that possess unparalleled opportunities that make this area one of the most desirable and livable in the Southeast and the nation," Mr. Young said on a cold and blustery day that gave master of ceremonies Doug Barnard the best line of the day.
"They said it would be a cold day in Augusta, Ga., when Bob Young was re-elected mayor," Mr. Barnard said. "Well, it's a cold day in Augusta, Ga."
Mr. Young defeated black mayoral candidate Ed McIntyre by a narrow margin in a runoff election where the vote was split along racial lines.
After the ceremony, Mr. Young said Friday wasn't as cold as it was when he was sworn in four years ago.
"So maybe there's a thaw coming in the political scheme," he said.
Mr. Young said he will undertake a listening tour throughout the city, meeting with individuals, neighborhood groups and civic organizations to hear their concerns.
After the ceremony, several Augusta commissioners said they thought the racial divide could be healed with the proper effort and pledged to do their part.
Commissioner Marion Williams said the term "healing" implied that things in the past had been sick. He said that was true for his district, the poorest in the city, which had not received its fair share of attention and resources.
Reactions from some Augusta leaders to Mayor Bob Young's call for unity:
Augusta businessman and former Richmond County Commissioner Don Grantham:
"I think it's going to take everybody joining together and trying to overcome what's happened in the past. I feel like we have a community that's willing and ready to work, one that knows that Augusta can go forward. I think that in the future there will be other people to step forward to make a position in this government and this economy. So I look forward to young people getting involved. I look forward to some of the former commissioners getting involved. And I think that's what it's going to take."
Commissioner Bobby Hankerson:
"I think the mayor made a great speech this afternoon. I think that we are on the right road if we just start off this new year working together. As I've always said, 'Together we stand. Divided we fall.' And we all want to make Augusta the city it should be. And I think we all can do that by the community working together, the leaders working together with integrity and truth and be truthful with one another and focus on things that are going to develop this area."
Commissioner Marion Williams:
"I think the mayor's speech touched on some things that say we've got some problems. He said it's time for healing. So that means there has been some sickness. There has been some stuff that's wrong. And I'm just hoping this new year and his new election's going to change some things, so we'll be able to work together. I'm accused of making a lot of noise, but I serve the poorest district. I've got people in my district that's still got ditches in front of their houses and the road has not been paved. So everybody in Augusta doesn't feel they've been treated fairly. So I'm hoping he's going to do what he says, and I'm going to hold him to that and try to make this city a great city for all God's people."
Commissioner Richard Colclough: "I think we can work together. The mayor was elected by the people of this city, and I think we can work together to make it better. I do think it's possible."
Commissioner Stephen Shepard:
"I think they were sentiments that needed speaking, about unity and coming together and working together. I think it certainly has a chance amongst all members of the community. It's incumbent on the commissioners to work with him, and we'll certainly be reaching out, just as he'll be reaching out. So I'm hopeful."
Frank Thomas, the executive director of the Augusta Human Relations Commission:
"I thought about what he said, but I didn't just start thinking about that today. We've been working on that all along. The human relations commission has a blue ribbon committee that meets monthly at the Chamber of Commerce working on the problems that's facing Augusta, some of the things the mayor pointed to today. And the committee plans to come up with a map outlining what it will take to bring the races together - blacks, whites, Hispanics, Orientals, every ethnic group."
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or email@example.com.