St. Patrick’s Day is definitely a strange day for an election.
But three candidates in District 7 will be competing this Tuesday for the unexpired term of former Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith.
And, let’s just say, Augustans seem ready and eager to put the whole Donnie Smith fiasco behind them. After hearing an earful of Smith’s vulgar and “sexually explicit” comments toward female employees of the Georgia State Patrol’s Troop E Communications Center, District 7 would probably gladly welcome any of the three candidates — Louis “Hap” Harris, Sean Frantom or Sonny Pittman — seeking the seat to help erase the much too vivid memory of Smith.
But who will have the “Luck of the Irish” this Tuesday?
Of course, that’s a loaded question.
Many historians believe the phrase, “Luck of the Irish” is an ironic phrase used to describe the tragic history of the people of Ireland who were forced to emigrate from their homeland.
Others say, the “Luck of the Irish” originated in the United States and was used to describe the Irish immigrants who found their “Pot of Gold” working in their new nation.
And then some even say that the “Luck of the Irish” was a terrible ethnic slur implying that Irish men and women who made good in this country must be lucky rather than intelligent, hard-working or talented.
But let’s not spoil the St. Patrick’s Day spirit, filled with green beer and shiny beads, by bringing up history.
The question is: Who will win the District 7 race this St. Patrick’s Day and have reason to celebrate?
Over the past few weeks, Sean Frantom has been looking very strong.
Just last week, the Augusta-Richmond County Committee for Good Government voted to endorse the 36-year-old Frantom, who is the development director at Ronald McDonald House.
That was an impressive endorsement, but the rumor on the street is that, if Frantom was running for District 1 in downtown Augusta, he would have this election in the bag.
But West Augusta’s District 7 is a lot trickier for him.
The district is filled with older voters who want a candidate they used to sit next to in class at Richmond Academy or someone they regularly see around the country club or church.
They want a true “Augustan.”
That’s where appointed Augusta Commissioner Louis “Hap” Harris might have a real fighting chance.
Harris, a local insurance agent and former member of the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, has lived in the Garden City for more than 45 years.
Sure, his close ties with Augusta Commissioner Grady Smith were controversial, but yet not surprising considering the politics in this town.
Smith’s nomination of Harris, who served as a campaign organizer for Smith during his District 10 race, was immediately criticized last year.
Rumors spread throughout the community that Smith was involved in “vote trading” with Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams in order to get his friend, Harris, appointed to the position.
However, Smith quickly brushed off any criticism he received and stood by his nomination for the District 7 seat.
“Hap Harris is District 7,” Smith insisted last September. “I went to school a couple of years ahead of him, but he was there with my brother at Richmond Academy. Everybody knows him. He is honest. He has got integrity. He isn’t ashamed. If he’s got an opinion, he’ll let you know and if he’s wrong, he’ll apologize later.”
And who was the one bringing up many of the rumors of vote trading between Smith and Williams?
District 7 candidate Sonny Pittman, himself.
Of course, back then, he claimed he wasn’t interested in the District 7 seat.
At the time, Pittman was constantly being interviewed by the media about the back-room deal that Smith allegedly made with Williams to get his good ol’ buddy, “Hap” Harris, appointed.
The next thing Augustans knew, the board of directors of the West Augusta Alliance sent a formal request to Augusta commissioners demanding that they convene a public hearing in west Augusta, preferably at the Warren Road Community Center, to discuss citizens’ concerns about the interim appointment. In a personal email to commissioners, Pittman requested that once the hearing was concluded, the commission should immediately make their interim District 7 appointment.
Both of those requests were flatly ignored by commissioners.
Augusta commissioners did not give Pittman the time of day.
The next thing District 7 residents knew, Pittman, the president of the West Augusta Alliance, had thrown his hat into the ring.
Talk about flip flopping on an issue.
Despite his past differences with commissioners, Pittman insists he is willing to work with everyone.
“A commissioner must work with the rest of the commission to accomplish anything,” Pittman stated, “but they must do so while always first guarding the interests of the voters who put them into office.”
It’s bad when you are running for a seat and you’ve already burned bridges with some of your potential colleagues on the commission.
So, we are back to the original question: Who will win the District 7 race this Tuesday?
If it wasn’t a “holiday” like St. Patrick’s Day where young people like to play hooky from any and all of their responsibilities, most would bet on Frantom.
But the green beer, beautiful weather and the downtown parade may really kill his chances.
Why head to the polls when you can pull up a stool at a local bar and enjoy a Guinness is the middle of the day, completely guilt free?
Of course, Frantom has been talking about the grassroots effort in his campaign and how he has been hitting the streets, meeting voters.
Well, while everyone is always impressed with Frantom’s hard work and enthusiasm in public events, some voters in the district have been surprised by his door-to-door manner.
Frantom actually came to the door of a Metro Spirit staffer and his greeting was less than enthusiastic.
“Hi. My name is Sean Frantom. I’m running for District 7,” Frantom said, handing the Metro Spirit’s staffer a flier and quickly moving on.
Frantom is always enthusiastic and outgoing.
But when he was at the door of a potential voter, he didn’t even say, “I’d like your vote,” or “I’m asking for your vote” ?
Now, the truth is, Frantom has been one of the few candidates who has really worked the streets and knocked on doors, but his delivery needed some work.
And what about Pittman’s chances?
Well, Pittman is definitely an expert at running for political races, but he’s not an expert at winning.
Pittman ran for the District 7 seat on the Richmond County Commission in 1992 and lost.
He then ran for the Richmond County Board of Education in 1994 and lost.
He then ran for the Georgia House of Representatives in 1998 and lost.
And he most recently ran for the commission’s District 10 seat and lost.
Well, like the old saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
So, who will win?
Unless Frantom can really convince his supporters to forgo the green beer this Tuesday, chances are the clerk of commission won’t have to make up any new nameplates.
Louis “Hap” Harris will likely still be the District 7 commissioner.