Well, I gotta admit. When the campaign for Augusta mayor started, I thought there was no way Deke Copenhaver would win.
When people asked me if I thought he had a chance, I said yes, but here's what would have to happen: Willie Mays and Helen Blocker-Adams would have to split the black vote, and Copenhaver would have to pick up far more of the white vote than Tommy Boyles to get in a runoff with Mays or Blocker-Adams.
That scenario played out, so the next question was whether Copenhaver could beat Mays one-on-one. The classic election model says that when you get an incumbent into a runoff, the incumbent loses; the expectation is that the second-place finisher will pick up more of the other finishers' votes than will the incumbent.
But in Augusta's everything-is-about-race politics, nothing is sure. And boy, did the racial heat get turned up: The black papers and black pulpits accused Blocker-Adams of being an "Aunt Tom," running only to split the black vote and then betraying her race to endorse Copenhaver. And in a conspiracy theory worthy of Roswell, The Chronicle's endorsement of Blocker-Adams was portrayed as a sly ploy to get Copenhaver into a runoff with Mays. (I know those folks. They aren't that clever.)
Augusta's Democrats, who endorsed Mays in the non-partisan election, were even dragged into the racial discord by one of those nutty voter cards that make the rounds in the city - this particular one purportedly from something like "Black Democrats for Unity." To the Democrats' credit, Chairman Lowell Greenbaum held a press conference to repudiate the card.
The tremendous, and often scurrilous, push to scare black voters to the polls didn't work. White Augusta voters turned out in record numbers and voted overwhelmingly for Copenhaver, while many black voters stayed home. My interpretation of that is black voters either turned out to vote for Mays, or stayed home to vote against him without actually voting for Copenhaver.
Against any odds I would have given him, then, Copenhaver won in a landslide. He'll be sworn in Monday. And the deposed king of Augusta politics and would-be kingmaker, former state Sen. Charles Walker, is scheduled to report to prison Thursday.
Are these two things related? For Columbia County, yes. While there seems to be an almost lunatic belief in some quarters of Augusta that Columbia County is too snobbish to work with Augusta, the reality is that Augusta repeatedly has rejected cooperative overtures from Columbia County leaders.
Just two recent examples:
At the direction of Walker and his minions, Augusta's Development Authority refused to cooperate in a regional economic development agreement with Columbia County. As a result, Columbia County turned its attention westward, and is now part of the forward-thinking Clarks Hill Partnership.
After failing to work out a more equitable marketing agreement with the Augusta Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, Columbia County quit wasting its money and instead started setting up its own tourism department. County leaders then graciously offered Augusta's CVB a seat on Columbia County's tourism board - and the CVB turned it down.
Copenhaver's election is a sign that maybe, just maybe, some of the folks in Augusta are tired of this kind of hard-headed attitude. Certainly, he's been handed a golden opportunity to try to fix some of these problems - but since he's filling out Bob Young's unexpired term, he has just one year to make progress.
Go get 'em, Deke.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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