Newcomer Jenkins stresses teamwork

JoRae Jenkins entered the District 1 commission race with no baggage -- no voting record, no past to explain and no well known ties to any established politicians.

That's not necessarily an advantage. It also means she's in a five-way race with no name recognition.

Where Bill Fennoy cut his teeth on the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, where Matt Aitken has been involved in the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast and Leadership Augusta, and where Butch Palmer's neighborhood activism has made steady headlines, few people know who Ms. Jenkins is or what she stands for.

The 34-year-old single mother of three said she's just going to have to put in more work between now and Nov. 3, hitting the phones, the pavement and the neighborhood meetings from sunup to sundown. That's her strategy.

"Good, old-fashioned teamwork," she said. "Good, old-fashioned ground work. Getting the trust of the people of Augusta. Letting them know who I am."

Before she qualified to run, Ms. Jenkins had had only one brush with the public spotlight, and it involved vicious animals and a woman nearly mauled to death.

Two years ago, Ms. Jenkins was a child care worker at the Southside Tubman Family Y, and as she was opening up one morning she heard screaming across the street. Brenda Williams, who had been walking to a bus stop, was being attacked by four pit bulls, lying on the ground with jaws bearing down on all four appendages.

With a pregnant friend in the passenger seat, Ms. Jenkins drove her car to the scene, pulling forward and backward and honking the horn until the dogs scattered. She got out, pulled Ms. Williams into the car with the dogs eyeing her from across the road, and rushed her to Medical College of Georgia Hospital.

Ms. Jenkins -- whose first name is pronounced ja-ray -- now runs her own business, Jenkins & Associates Event Planners, planning weddings, birthday parties and meetings for clients. The business is on hold during her campaign, she said.

The pit bull incident was an extreme example of her knack for helping people in trouble, which led her to enter politics, something she's been involved with behind the scenes for years. She said she worked for the campaigns of President Obama, U.S. Rep. John Barrow and two others she declined to name.

As for her own campaign, she's pushing the message of "people over politics." She wants to see an end to commission turmoil along racial lines. Though she has demographics on her side in a majority black district -- not to mention that she's the only woman running to replace the only woman on the commission -- it's not an advantage she wants to play up.

"I would hope people would vote on the issues," Ms. Jenkins said, "and look at me not as a woman, not as a black woman, not as a divorcee, not as a single parent, but on how I stand on the issues.

"Once my message is spread," she said, "when you see my message and what my vision is for the city, it won't be a white vote or a black vote or a swing vote, because the people will have spoken."

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

AGE: 34

FAMILY: Single; daughter Alexia, 16, son Aaron, 13, and daughter Ashley, 9

EDUCATION: Diploma from Academy of Richmond County, class of 1993; early childhood education diploma from Augusta Technical College

CAREER: Event planner and owner of Jenkins & Associates Event Planners; former child care worker at the Southside Tubman Family YMCA; former program assistant for the Augusta Partnership for Children

LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE: Secretary, Katrina Leadership Project; secretary, It Takes All of Us Inc.

CAMPAIGN PLATFORM: "People over politics"; improving communication between commissioners and constituents; improving communication among commissioners so the board can be one voice for the community; going green by promoting recycling in District 1; providing parental programs; encouraging school attendance to increase test scores