Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012
By The Outsider
For the most part, the old Southside Mafia political machine has become a relic of the past. Most of its members have either died off or been defeated at the polls. But still a few cling on to power. The Richmond County School Board is where the Southside Mafia's presence in local politics is still the most noticeable. There are two school board members who have received support from the old Southside Mafia political machine: Jack Padgett, representing District 6 and Jimmy Atkins representing District 8. School Board districts are congruent with Augusta commission districts.
We have learned that Robert Cheek plans to challenge sitting Dist. 8 school board member Jimmy Atkins this fall. Political insiders are telling City Stink that Cheek's campaign will be an all out assault on one of the last remaining power bases of The Southside Mafia, and he will have some heavy-hitters backing him in this race.
Robert Cheek is the brother of former Augusta Commissioner (Dist 6) Andy Cheek, who defeated the Southside Mafia to get elected to the Commission in 2000. Robert Cheek had planned to run for the Dist 8 Augusta Commission seat back in 2010. It was an open seat since Southside Mafia stalwart Jimmy Smith was term limited out. In that race the Southside Mafia had lined up behind Doug Lively. In the end, Cheek decided not to run and backed Wayne Guilfoyle, who ultimately won. That was a major defeat for the Southside Mafia, since the Dist 8 commission seat was their last stronghold on the commission.
Robert Cheek also backed Libertarian Taylor Bryant, in his bid to unseat veteran school board member Jack Padgett in the Dist 6 school board race in 2010. The Southside Mafia tried to get Bryant to drop out of the race and run against Commissioner Joe Jackson, whom they believed had turned against them. Bryant declined, saying "I don't play that game." Bryant contends he was contacted by Darren Smith (son of former Commissioner Jimmy Smith) and J.B. Powell (who was running for Agriculture Commissioner at the time), to get out of the school board race. The Southside Mafia seemed to be protecting Jack Padgett. So they turned their ire against Bryant. Joe Jackson ended up having no challenger for the commission race. You can read more about these events here: Sylvia Cooper: Good Government Panel High on Incumbents.
Ultimately, Bryant's bid came up short and Padgett won another term. If Cheek were to unseat Atkins this fall, Padgett would be one of the last surviving members of the Southside Mafia left in county government in any form, and the new redistricting maps under consideration leave him extremely vulnerable to a challenge in the next election. That may be why Padgett is fighting so vigorously to halt the redistricting 3-R map.. the same one that he and all of the other redistricting ad-hoc committee members voted to approve last November.
Political insiders are telling City Stink that this will be one of the highest profile school board races in recent memory and that good money is betting on Robert Cheek. But The Southside Mafia will likely not go down without a fight, so expect this one to get real ugly. Stay tuned for more to come. ***
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