Palmer aims to build on activism

Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
James "Butch" Palmer is making his third run for office, and he's using the campaign to push for an ordinance against "nuisance" property owners.

James R. "Butch" Palmer has been calling for gentrification in Harrisburg for two years, and with strong language.

In 2007, he formed an activist group called Harrisburg Organization Networking for Gentrification to Keep Our Neighborhood from becoming a Ghetto -- HONGKONG. He's a partner in a real estate venture called Harrisburg Gentrification Partners LLC. On the Web and in interviews, he has characterized the neighborhood's undesirables as roaches, fertile welfare queens, crack whores and trash.

Now running to replace Betty Beard in Augusta Commission District 1 -- a district that's 65 percent black and 31 percent white, and hasn't had a white representative in the 13 years since city-county consolidation -- Mr. Palmer said he doesn't see how any of his past efforts will hurt him Nov. 3.

He said he doesn't see a white community and black community in Augusta, just a large fed-up community.

"The black people I know don't like ghettos," he said. "The black people I know don't like riff-raff. The black people I know are middle-class people and they're proud of it."

Mr. Palmer and fellow activist Lori Davis have organized four protests of "nuisance" property owners since July 4. On Monday, they demanded the Augusta Commission adopt an ordinance holding landlords accountable for their tenants' behavior.

"I'm just as much out here promoting the Chronic Nuisance Properties Ordinance as I am my election," Mr. Palmer said Tuesday while campaigning door-to-door along Central Avenue. "I'm synonymous with this ordinance, and good will come of it whether I get in office or not."

This is his third try for public office. In 1986, he ran for the Augusta City Council's 5th Ward seat, and out of five candidates came in last place with 42 votes. He tried again in 1989 and came in last place out of four candidates with 12 votes.

Last week, Elliot M. Davis, 37, filed paperwork against Mr. Palmer to pursue a warrant against him for pointing a gun, a misdemeanor. Mr. Davis told police that as he drove past Mr. Palmer's Tuttle Street home Sept. 24 with his stereo on, Mr. Palmer pointed a shotgun at him and said, "Turn that music down, boy, before I shoot you."

A prewarrant hearing, where a Magistrate Court judge will decide whether Mr. Palmer should be arrested, has been scheduled three days after the election.

Mr. Palmer denies pointing the gun or calling the man "boy" and says it was Mr. Davis who launched degrading slurs at him that day.

JAMES "BUTCH" PALMER

AGE: 50

FAMILY: Single, no children

EDUCATION: High school diploma from Academy of Richmond County, class of 1978; cosmetology diploma from Augusta Technical College

CAREER: Harrisburg landlord; former owner and operator of Salon 606 on Crawford Avenue

LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE: Board member and former vice president, Harrisburg-West End Neighborhood Association; founder and organizer, activist group HONGKONG -- Harrisburg Organization Networking for Gentrification to Keep Our Neighborhood from becoming a Ghetto

CAMPAIGN PLATFORM: Government transparency and public accountability; communication with District 1 constituents; coordinating efforts between District 1 and other districts that are beneficial to Augusta; less emphasis on major projects such as the trade, exhibit and event center and more emphasis on neighborhood revitalization; safe, clean neighborhoods; equitable public services for tax dollars; monitoring nuisance properties for authorities to address