Mayoral profile: Cousino embraces outsider’s role

pramati@macon.comAugust 10, 2013 

  • Get to know David Cousino

    Age: 52
    Occupation: Security systems business owner
    Education: Business degree, ITT Columbus Business University; studied at Liberty University
    Political experience: Won the Republican primary but lost in the general election for Macon mayor, 2007; lost Republican primary for Bibb County Commission chairman, 2008; lost as a certified write-in candidate for Macon mayor, 2011.
  • EDITOR'S NOTE: Telegraph writers Jim Gaines and Phillip Ramati are writing profiles on the six candidates who will appear on the ballot for mayor of the new Macon-Bibb County consolidated government. The profiles will appear in alphabetical order.
    Aug. 4: Joe Allen and Charlie Bishop
    Aug. 11: David Cousino and Jack Ellis
    Aug. 18: Sam Hart and Robert Reichert

David Cousino doesn’t like being labeled a “perennial candidate.”

Cousino, who has twice made unsuccessful Macon mayoral runs and attempted to become Bibb County Commission chairman, said that description suggests he’s not serious about actually winning elections.

And yet, Cousino’s actions often make him seem like a candidate more intent on showmanship than substance.

In April, for example, he dressed as a cowboy and rode to the Bibb County Elections Board office to pay his qualifying fee in his current bid for mayor of Macon-Bibb County. He paid part of the $3,000 qualifying fee with gold-colored presidential coins.

“It’s not a gimmick,” said Cousino, 52. “When I go out there, I go work. ... I wore the full cowboy gear, and I didn’t pay for it with regular bills. I do everything in an authentic way. ... Follow what I really do.”

Cousino said he wanted to paint for voters a “word picture” -- an image of an old-time cowboy coming in to clean up the town.

Apart from the fact that the field of would-be mayors is already crowded -- the six candidates include two two-term mayors, two county chairmen and a county commissioner with two decades of service -- Cousino has struggled to get much attention from voters.

In his three attempts at political office, Cousino has never surpassed the 459 votes he garnered as the Republican candidate running for mayor against Democrat Robert Reichert in 2007.

But the scant show of support at the polls hasn’t quashed Cousino’s desire to serve. In some ways, it’s his record of service that defines him.

Public service

Cousino could be described as a community activist, given the work he has done to organize neighborhood cleanups in Village Green or feeding the homeless at Macon Outreach. It gives him an up-close view of problems facing local residents.

Unlike many other activists, however, Cousino’s nature is to shun the spotlight for his community work, which gives him a boost with some supporters.

“The things he does, he doesn’t ask for credit for,” said Village Green resident Janice Hamlin, who contacted Cousino for help with a neighborhood cleanup next month. “He says, ‘That’s what I’m supposed to do.’ He talks to people to see what’s up. ... I’ve found him to be a good, honest man.”

Hamlin and others say Cousino’s lack of political seasoning makes him an attractive candidate. He’s not part of the establishment, just an Average Joe who has more in common with regular folks than the other candidates, she said.

“He’s just not a politician,” Hamlin said.

Morris Hancock, a retiree, called Cousino “the only outsider” in the race.

“I was against consolidation, because we’re getting the same old cast of characters,” Hancock said. “Here’s what we ended up with -- Reichert, Joe Allen, Sam Hart. ... I like outsiders, fresh blood. ... (Current politicians) have been in charge for a long time.”

Cousino’s supporters say they have no doubts about his desire to make things better.

“He has a sincere heart. He wants to see things improved in Macon,” said Debra Hall, a nurse who lives in Cousino’s neighborhood off Eisenhower Parkway. “He has a gusto to get things done. He takes into account what someone needs. I think he’d be for everybody, not just the rich or poor.”

Cousino said he’s had to step up to help neighborhoods because local officials have failed to live up to their obligations to fix problems such as bad roads and faulty sewer systems.

Regarding his community work, he says it isn’t simply a gimmick to drum up votes.

“When I do volunteer work, I do volunteer work, and I give the glory to God that’s above and not myself,” said Cousino, who has traveled abroad on several occasions for missionary work. “It’s tough. Newspapers or media or broadcasters don’t know how to handle that. Most politicians want to take the glory for themselves.”

Different viewpoints

If he becomes mayor, some of Cousino’s plans seem to fly in the face of convention. Many also either lack details or are based on incorrect information.

For example, Cousino has long championed returning the Ocmulgee National Monument to Native American tribes, whom he said would do a better job preserving the land. Cousino said they could open a casino there that would make Macon a destination point.

Cousino said he’s been in discussion with a tribe for several years about the plan, but he declined to say whom he has been talking with. In addition, the plan hinges on the mayor having the influence and authority to give away the land. In fact, the federal government has jurisdiction over the property, not the local government.

“Give the monument back to the native Indians,” he said. “It’s their property. (As mayor), I’d work with an attorney to do that, but it would take an act of Congress to make it happen.”

Many of Cousino’s ideas seem to contradict themselves. He acknowledges that salaries and benefits are the biggest expense for any government, and he also says the new government likely will retain the majority of city and county workers.

However, he thinks local government is too big, saying the number of employees wasn’t reduced over the years as the population shrunk or stagnated. He wants to reduce the number of employees through attrition and keep empty jobs frozen until the population increases.

Cousino said he wants to tackle crime through preventative measures, including having more police vehicles on patrol as a deterrent to criminal activities. At the same time, however, he said the city has too many officers based on its population, and he favors reducing the number of officers.

However, the new mayor and commission won’t have direct oversight of law enforcement. Under the new charter, that falls to the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, a constitutional office that does not answer to the new mayor or nine-member commission.

“That’s one of the reasons I was against consolidation,” he said. “The people still need to have a voice in who is patrolling the community. The sheriff is basically supposed to take care of the jail. They’re not supposed to be doing patrols.”

Cousino contends Macon has seen an increase in crime, and he blames police for failing to curb it. However, he didn’t offer any data to back up his claims.

In fact, Macon police released data earlier this year that shows a significant drop in crime over the past 19 years, including violent crimes such as murder and rape.

Business and jobs

To attract businesses to Macon, Cousino said he would create a one-stop shop for prospective business owners to get all their permits, streamlining the process.

“Now that we’re a consolidated government, we need a one-stop place,” he said. “No more talking about it. It needs to be done.”

Cousino blames what he considers a decline of the city and county over the past few decades on the “good ol’ boy system.”

Cousino said jobs won’t return to Macon and Bibb County until the neighborhoods are cleaned up. He said he’s already attacking the blight problem by organizing the neighborhood cleanups, and he pledges to pressure the county tax assessors and code-enforcement officials to do a better job cataloging the issue.

He wants to work with businesses to help with neighborhood cleanup.

“We’ve got to get businesses motivated to help out,” he said. “I’ll be a working mayor instead of a pencil pusher.”

Cousino said downtown redevelopment has been “awesome,” but at the same time he thinks cronyism is a problem. The same developers and contractors are working on the majority of projects, he said.

“(Officials) work with the good ol’ boys,” he said. “I’ll work with the poor and middle class.”

Cousino, who bids for contracts as part of his security business, said he thinks too much preference is given to local companies when awarding government contracts. Instead, he would rather see outside companies awarded local contracts -- thus bringing in people who will spend money here at hotels and restaurants -- and have local companies stay in business by competing for contracts outside of Bibb County.

Other proposed Cousino initiatives include dredging the Ocmulgee River to allow for river traffic and building an amphitheater in Central City Park, “before Warner Robins gets one.”

“We would truly be a river city then,” he said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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