The three candidates challenging incumbent DeKalb Commissioner Gregory Adams for his Super District 7 seat see the May 22 contest as a referendum on behavior.
Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, John Tolbert Jr. and Ed Williams all jumped into the race the last day of qualifying in March so that Adams – who made headlines eight months into office on allegations he sexually harassed his chief of staff – would not be returned to office unopposed.
Tolbert, who is running a second time for the seat, said the May 22 Democratic primary is about two things.
“This race comes down to character and the allocation of resources,” he said.
Speaking at the May 7 CrossRoadsNews Candidate Forum at First African Church, the challengers said they are qualified and ready to serve. They identified public safety, code enforcement, resource allocations and home ownership as the top issues facing the county.
Adams did not attend. He said in a May 7 email that he had a conflict.
Cochran-Johnson said she has master’s degrees in public administration and criminal justice, and the administration of criminal justice, but that it's her background in grant writing and economic development that has prepared her to be a commissioner.
“I believe we all share the same concerns," she told the audience of 100 at the forum. “We all travel the same roads, we all turn on our televisions; we understand we have issues with public safety.”
To move forward, Cochran-Johnson said it’s time we have someone who has a seat at the table with the ability to get results.
“I will aggressively work with individuals and partners to attract industry into our community,” she said. “I will operate with dignity and respect.”
Tolbert, who was a candidate in the 2016 special election won by the incumbent, said that he is fighting and running to make sure that District 7 gets its piece of the pie.
“I’m a graduate of Morehouse College. I’ve been in corporate America for 25 years,” said Tolbert, a manager at General Motors.
His issues are to fight crime, bring viable businesses to the county, and repave county roads.
“Three and a half weeks ago, I was campaigning on Wesley Chapel and got shot with a rubber bullet,” he said. “I waited for an hour and 36 minutes and the police didn’t come. I’m fighting for better allocation for police.”
Ed Williams, a college professor and community advocate, said politics is more than dollars and cents.
“It’s about people, lives and relationships, said Williams, a 20-year DeKalb resident. “Rise up DeKalb, we are at a crossroads and we’ve to make a decision as to what direction we want to go. “
Williams, who is also a Morehouse graduate, says he has project management certification from Georgia Tech and has been involved in community issues for years.
“I’m not just running for a title or a position,” he said. “I want to give back to the people. I want to have more police on the streets, with better pay and accountability. I want better code enforcement and a clean DeKalb, and more MARTA stations in DeKalb.”
Tolbert says he doesn’t see enough police as he goes about the county, and that we need to lure bigger and viable businesses.
“We have to fix our roads,” he said. “If we make the county transportable, we can bring more residents and businesses.”
Tolbert promised to allocate resources to the areas that need it the most.
Williams said the county is short 155 police officers.
“We have one of the highest crime rates in the metro are,” he said. “We have to do something about that in order for us to be able to have economic development.”
He said the quality of life depends on public safety.
“We need to increase the salaries for the police officers and compensate them more than what commissioners have given themselves as a raise,” he said. “We need to give police at least a 25 percent raise and make them comparable to other places in the area.”
Cochran-Johnson said home ownership among African Americans is at its lowest since the Great Depression in 1926. She also says the county cannot continue to train police officers who leave for other jurisdictions where the pay is better.
“We are acting as a fertile training ground for officers, who because we are not providing the salary and resources they deserve, actively leave as soon as they are trained,” she said.
Adams was in office for five months when the county launched an internal investigation in May 2017 into allegations from his chief of staff, Ashlee Wright, that he was sexually harassing her.
The investigation, which cost the county $23,000, found that he violated the county's sexually harassment policy when he called Wright “sexy, beautiful and intelligent”; repeatedly asked to see pictures of her in a bikini; referred to himself as “big daddy,” and Wright as “my baby,” and invited himself to her hotel room at 3 a.m. during an April 27-29 conference of county commissioners in Savannah.
It recommended that Adams "attend sexual harassment training to ensure that he understands the kinds of comments and behavior that are not appropriate for professional setting and the impact that such comments may have on the recipients."
During the investigation, Adams blamed his behavior on prescription drugs he was taking that make him do odd things that he cannot remember.
Adams, a former DeKalb Police officer, is to be consecrated June 23 as presiding bishop of Restoration in Christ International Ministries, a small church on Wesley Chapel Road in Decatur.
In the May primary, he is running for his first full four-year term after winning the December 2016 special election to finish the term of Stan Watson, who resigned from the BOC.
In an April 25 email, he said that he has led the efforts to rebuild DeKalb County by investing in parks, roads, seniors and families.
“I am the only candidate in this race who has successfully managed and allocated millions of dollars of taxpayer funds,” he said. “In my next term I plan to lead efforts to decriminalize simple use and possession of marijuana, invest more in our parks and recreation, provide additional tax relief for residents, provide real raises to all of DeKalb County’s hard-working employees, increase economic development opportunities by investing in real mass and light transit and securely protect our seniors, children and furry family members.”
Because there is no Republican challenger for the Nov. 6 general election, the winner of the May 22 Democratic primary will take the seat.
Early voting is underway through May 18. On election day all polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.