Back in 1998, when then-Channel 6 an-chor Bob Young decided to run for mayor of Augusta, I gave him the thumbs up.
Because the powers of Augustas mayor are so weak, the position requires significant communication skills. In a contest with Larry Sconyers, a prince of a guy but not the best public speaker, Young easily delivers the best presentation.
Those communication skills would allow Young to make the bully-pulpit portion of the job look easy, I said. Besides; Sconyers was complaining about the lack of power in the office, and Young said he would accept the job as-is.
The intervening four years certainly have granted a new perspective to Young, and to me. Obviously, he hasnt made it look easy, mostly be-cause of a flawed Augusta system of government and city commissioners who make even the most mundane government operations as difficult as possible.
Young also, reluctantly, has begun to admit that the mayors office would be far more effective with some of the changes lawmakers in Atlanta are finally offering.
But those changes wont take effect until after this years mayoral race. And before Young can try governing under more helpful rules, hell first have to win re-election on a record hamstrung by the old ones.
Last years Augusta Commission elections carried threatening signs for Young. The failure of the two Brighams - the unrelated Henry and Jerry - to win re-election indicates voters werent just evaluating the candidates; they were judging the government itself. While Brigham & Brigham were the first casualties of that broader view, Young will be the first countywide incumbent to face this test.
That means Young wont just be running to defend his record - hell also be the face of the dysfunctional government as voters ratify or reject the citys progress.
Youngs fight for re-election, then, already promised to be tough.
It just got tougher. Last week, Robin Williams started letting word get out that hes running for mayor. He will make a formal an-nouncement April 2.
Williams left the political stage in 2000 on the tip of Sue Burmeisters shoe, when the surprising upstart booted Williams out of his state House seat. Ironically, it is Burmeister who is pushing to change the rules under which the next mayor will serve - and Williams wants to be the first beneficiary of her efforts.
Even from out here in Columbia County, this will be a fascinating race. Young and I are friends and former colleagues in the media, and the talking-head television show to which I contribute is one that Young once served as host.
Though our politics are often far apart, Williams and I are practically family. His mother once gave me a place to stay when I needed it, and Robin and I were like brothers. Then our paths diverged; I went off to college, and he joined the Air Force. I became a reporter, and he became a politician.
Each man is a gifted politician whose well-publicized flaws cast giant shadows, and each will attract busloads of well-heeled supporters to an expensive race.
The next mayor will win only by spending lots of money to hide those flaws and promote a positive image, while giving and receiving what likely will be some of the nastiest attacks in local election history.
After the mud clears, the next mayor - whether it is Young, or Williams, or some surprise candidate - will embody the peoples vision for Augustas revised government.
God help them all.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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