Originally created 09/24/05

Race remains factor in Augusta elections



The issue of race, although not as dominant as in years past, is still an issue in Augusta elections, according to political observers, noting newly elected state Sen. Ed Tarver's broad voter appeal during Tuesday's Georgia Senate District 22 special election.

Mr. Tarver won with 63.3 percent of ballots cast, or 8,075 votes, compared with former Georgia Rep. Ben Allen, who received 3,815 votes, or 29.9 percent, according to the Richmond County Board of Elections.

About half of Mr. Tarver's support came from 22 majority black precincts, such as Gracewood Community Center. But Mr. Tarver also won 20 majority white precincts, including Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

Mr. Allen won 10 black majority precincts but failed to win a single white majority precinct.

Former Georgia Rep. George Brown received 838 votes, or 6.6 percent.

Though race has become less of an issue, it is still present in local politics, said Dr. Ralph Walker, professor emeritus and the director of the Augusta State University Research Center.

"Race does play a role in politics in Augusta," he said. "There's no question about that. However, with three Afro-Americans running, I think this race was a more candidate-centered race. There really were no major issues."

One reason Mr. Tarver, a prominent local attorney and co-chairman of last year's special purpose local option sales tax citizen review committee, won the vote of many whites is because he is well known in both black and white communities from serving on various boards and committees, said James Kendrick, the chairman of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.

"I wouldn't call (race) a dominant issue," Mr. Kendrick said. "Is it a concern? Yes. Historically, I think what's different about this is Ed did quite well across the board."

If Mr. Tarver had run against a white candidate, Mr. Kendrick says he still would have won but would not have scored so highly in white precincts.

The Rev. Paulwyn Boliek, a co-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, a nonprofit group promoting racial understanding, said Mr. Tarver has the potential to build bridges between the black and white communities by "the very fact that he appeals to both black and white voters."

Reach Kate Lewis at (706) 823-3215 or kate.lewis@augustachronicle.com.