By The Outsider
And then there were four. In just a week since Sheriff Ronnie Strength announced his retirement, someone opened the floodgates and candidates to take his job have been pouring forth.. with so far four making it official.
The first was Captain Scott Peebles, who is considered the heavy favorite and the handpicked successor of current Sheriff Ronnie Strength. Then came Lt. Richard Roundtree, who works for the Richmond County Public Schools public safety department. Then on Friday two more candidates emerged, Lt John Ivey, a 32 year veteran of both the Augusta Police Department and The RCSO, where he currently oversees polygraph tests, and finally Lt. Robbie Silas, a long time road deputy with the RCSO and the brother-in-law of Sheriff Strength,
Political observers say this is really Peebles' race to lose, but with a field already this crowded a run-off seems more and more likely. And we are hearing that more candidates may be waiting in the wings with announcements planned next week. Complicating things for Peebles is Lt. Robbie Silas, who made his announcement this Friday and alluded to his familial relationship with Sheriff Strength and almost made it sound like the Sheriff had endorsed him, telling the crowd of 60 people who attended his rally, "I know (the sheriff) would like to see me win. To me, may the best man win.”
Sheriff Ronnie Strength is on the record saying he will not make a formal endorsement until after the July 31st primary. But many political insiders say that Strength is actually supporting Peebles behind the scenes and even asked his brother-in-law to stay out of the race. We are being told that Silas' entry into the race is causing a bit of a rift within the Strength family.
So what is prompting Silas' run? At his rally on Friday, Silas says this is something he has been planning to do for years, but political insiders are telling us that remnants of the old Southside Mafia political machine may be behind it.
The Southside Mafia was a powerful Democratic party political machine that controlled Richmond County politics for most of the latter half of the 20th century. They were the kingmakers when it came to local politics and pretty much hand selected the Sheriff. Charlie Webster was the last Sheriff who was a key figure of The Southside Mafia. Strength was groomed by The Southside Mafia to ascend to the Sheriff's office and inherit Webster's political coalition . Strength kept that coalition together for 3 terms, not even facing an opponent, but in his final term Strength has tried to distance himself and the RCSO from the clutches of the old guard of the Southside Mafia.
This distancing from the wishes of The Southside Mafia was most conspicuous in the decision of where to locate the new administrative offices for the RCSO. The Law Enforcement Center on Walton Way has been deteriorating for years, and a replacement for the facility was beyond any doubt. Key figures of the remaining Southside Mafia, including former Augusta Commissioner Jimmy Smith, lobbied hard for the new LEC be moved to South Augusta into the old Smartway Furniture Building in Southgate Plaza.
Sheriff Strength did not push for the move to South Gate, his endorsement of that location would have likely made it a reality. In fact he seemed to support the downtown location across from the current Law Enforcement Center on Walton Way. In the end,, the commission agreed to build the new facility in downtown across from the current LEC. It is under construction now. Many key members of the Southside Mafia considered this a slap in the face and a sign that loyalties in the RCSO had shifted towards the downtown interests and against The Southside. And it was at that time that they made a decision to produce their own candidate to challenge Sheriff Ronnie Strength's hand picked successor, Cpt. Scott Peebles. The feeling among many members of The Southside Mafia is that Peebles will take the department in a direction even further away from the interests of The Southside and will have loyalties more to downtown and westside political interests.
Political Insiders tell us that key figures of The Southside Mafia are backing Silas , and some of those names will be quite familiar to many long time residents of Richmond County, including former Democratic State Senator JB Powell and former Sheriff Charlie Webster who were in attandance at Silas' Friday rally. Silas made his announcement in front of Richmond County Democratic Party headquarters.
But it is likely that all four announced candidates will run as Democrats, as running as a Republican on a General Election ballot in heavily Democratic Richmond County is considered by most political analysts to be an effort in futility.
But will The Southside Mafia be able to build a coalition to overtake Peebles? Their numbers and strength have weakened considerably since their heyday. And Peebles will likely be getting the checks from the big money donors on The Hill and the Westside.. and this is going to be an expensive race.. and all indications are that Peebles will have no trouble raising the cash. Sources tell us, that developer Clay Boardman among other notable Augusta area businessmen are lining up behind Peebles. So this seems to be shaping up as a battle between two political factions... with The Cabal backing Peebles and The Southside Mafia backing Silas.
The Southside Mafia may be betting that the 12th District Congressional GOP race may erode Republican voters away from Peebles and propel Silas into the run-off. It is expected that Peebles will run as a Democrat, but the July 31st primary election will also feature a hotly contested race for the GOP nomination for the 12th congressional district. Voters can vote in only one party primary. They will have to choose between the highly competitive Sheriff's race or the 12th Dist GOP Congressional Race. It will be a difficult choice no doubt for many Richmond County Republicans.
Sheriff Ronnie Strength has already endorsed Sate Rep. lee Anderson in the 12 District GOP race. But RW Allen has his base of support in The Hill and in West Augusta. So will enough Richmond County Republicans choose to forgo the congressional race to cross-over and vote for Peebles in the Sheriff's race? If not, the advantage could easily go to Silas in making it into a run-off instead of Peebles.
Shaft Vs The Lie Detector
Another political battle may be brewing at the other end of the political spectrum, with factions within the black community lining up behind different candidates. Richard Roundtree (not to be confused with the actor who played a cop) is assumed to be the heavy favorite within Augusta's African-American community, and it seemed like he was running for the office months before he officially announced. But he is getting some competition from veteran cop Lt. John Ivey, who has been in Augusta-Richmond County law enforcement for the past 32 years, first with the the old city's police department and now with the Sheriff's Department heading up the polygraph division.
One of Ivey's key issues is forming a Citizens' Review Board for the Sheriff's Department. That won the approval of Frank Thomas, the longtime former director of the Human Relations Commission. He says that previous Sheriffs have resisted doing this. Political insiders tell us that Ivey is getting support from what can be described as "The Old Guard" of Augusta's black political elite. The word is they do not believe Roundtree has earned his way into the Sheriff's office, and that his personal and professional baggage might be too much of a distraction in a campaign. They believe that a 32 year veteran of Augusta law enforcement will be the best candidate to compete against someone with Capt. Scott Peebles' resume head to head.
As for Roundtree, he admits his past mistakes but says he is a changed man, and has learned from his mistakes. He has made community-policing a central theme of his campaign. Insiders tell us that Roundtree's support is primarily coming from a younger generation within the African-American community, and this seems evident with Roundtree's savvy use of online social networking to connect with voters.
But ultimately what all four of these candidates may be fighting for is a spot in a run-off.. and that is seeming to be more and more likely now.. and if more candidates jump in, it seems almost assured. What we do know for sure is that this will be one of the most competitive races for Sheriff in decades.. and it could likely end up being the most expensive election in history for any Augusta-Richmond county political office. The stakes are high and the various political factions will play tough to maintain power or to reclaim their former glory. Stay tuned. More to come**
UPDATE: Former Sheriff Charles Webster and former State Senator J.B. Powell have endorsed Lt. Robbie Silas for Sheriff. Now things are getting interesting.
- Peebles Announces Run For Sheriff; Silas May Be Staring a Family Feud
- Sheriff Strength's Exit Could Have a Big Impact on the 12th District Congressional Race
- Sheriff Ronnie Strength Calls It Quits