With early voting for the local elections already underway, the campaign trail is really heating up.
Candidates in both Richmond and Columbia counties are hitting the streets, holding up signs, knocking on doors and attending candidate forums to try to convince voters they are the best ones for the job.
Just last week, Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis and his opponent, Gould Hagler II, faced off in a forum that truly showed the differences between both candidates.
Davis, who spoke to the audience first, talked about everything from Augusta having the second-fastest growing economy in the state to the recent salary increase for local law enforcement officers.
“I’m proud tonight to announce to you that the state of our city is strong,” Davis said. Apparently, Davis was hoping to be able to list every possible accomplishment that the city has achieved over the past three years under his administration during the public forum.
In fact, Davis talked so long that the moderator had to cut him off so that Hagler would have enough time to address the crowd.
When Hagler finally took the floor, it was definitely a different tone.
“I want to thank my wife for allowing me to be here. She is home taking care of our son,” Hagler said, referring to the couple’s baby.
That’s probably the first time in history that a candidate for mayor of Augusta has thanked his wife for “allowing me to be here.”
Either Hagler is one of the most progressive-thinking mayoral candidates in Richmond County’s history, or he just wanted to let Augustans know who wears the pants in his family.
For those who might not be aware, Hagler’s wife, Amy, is no wallflower.
She graduated from Wake Forest University with a master’s degree in communication and works as the client service manager for Asset Advisors Corporation here in Augusta.
She also happens to be the granddaughter of Paul Simon, president of Augusta Riverfront LLC and former president of Morris Communications Corporation.
Most people know Simon as the longtime savvy spokesman for William S. Morris III, former owner and publisher of the <<IT>>Augusta Chronicle<<IT>>.
Having the Simon family supporting Hagler in the mayor’s race is an interesting twist on this election. It will definitely help Hagler with voters in the Hill area and west Augusta, but it won’t mean much to voters in south Augusta. Many of those folks are already supporting Davis.
But with such family connections, one would have thought that Simon might have warned Hagler about the pitfalls of running for mayor of Augusta.
After all, Simon has sat through countless hours of Augusta Commission meetings over the years, and he has negotiated with dozens of local elected officials on everything from the development of the Augusta Convention Center to the construction of the Reynolds Street parking garage.
Simon knows the demanding world of Augusta politics.
And yet, Hagler is still running for the city’s top seat.
Either Hagler really wants to be a public servant or he’s a glutton for punishment.
Anyway, during his speech to the audience at the candidate forum, Hagler wasn’t shy about talking about the controversial debate regarding the future site of $120 million James Brown Arena.
“I feel like if we are destined to build it in south Augusta, we need to get the best deal we possibly can for our citizens,” Hagler said. “We are dealing with folks in New York, and I feel like they think we are a joke. We’re not a joke. They want $60 million for this property.”
Hagler said some of the leading experts in the local real estate market have told him that the Regency Mall site is worth only $3.5 million.
The owners of the Regency Mall site must be “crazy,” Hagler said.
“Or they must think we’re crazy,” he said.
Overall, Hagler said he’s disappointed in how the entire city has been led into a divisive debate over whether the arena should be built in south Augusta or remain downtown.
“The James Brown Arena. If there was a dead horse here, that would be it,” Hagler said, adding that citizens are fed up with the controversy. “There has got to be something we can do to improve this process to make it better.”
Clearly, Hagler was referring to Davis’ role in pushing the Regency Mall site.
Even though the moderator had asked Davis to speak first about the topic of the arena, Davis strategically first offered the microphone to Hagler.
That way, Davis could respond to any criticism from his opponent.
So, when it was Davis’ turn, the mayor said he would support the outcome of the two non-binding questions regarding the arena on the May 22 ballot.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties have placed non-binding questions on the ballot that will ask voters whether they support building the new arena at the former Regency Mall site or if they support building the new structure at the existing James Brown Arena site.
But Davis did agree that the arena debate has divided this community.
However, the mayor had a different take on the matter.
“It is a divisive issue,” Davis said, adding that the arena debate has changed the “tone” of this election. “Many individuals who supported me previously are now supporting my opponent because of a singular decision to choose the Regency location as the place that we will build a multi-purpose arena.”
Davis said that “single decision” is altering people’s view of his entire performance as mayor.
Therefore, Davis said he is committed to supporting the result of the non-binding questions on the ballot.
No matter what.
“You can decide whether you want it at the Regency location or whether you want it to be built at the current location downtown,” Davis said. “As your mayor, I am going hold the flag up and I am going to support whatever decision the people decide.”
You heard him, folks.
If you care about the future site of the James Brown Arena, you better show up at the polls on May 22.