Political season heating up

By Justin Reedy

The 2004 general election is more than a year away, but the races are already heating up for some local offices that will be voted on next year.

Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle will face opposition in his second re-election bid, this time from Clayton County Police detective and state Rep. Victor Hill, D-Riverdale.

The race for chairman of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners is also heating up, with former Atlanta Police Chief Eldrin Bell having filed with the county Elections Division as a candidate for that office. Other candidates are eyeing the race.

Though Crandle Bray is finishing his third term as chairman of the commission, he hasn't ruled out running for a fourth term as Clayton County's chief administrator and head of the county's legislative body.

"Right now, I still consider myself a candidate," said Bray, who added that he never raises funds in a non-election year and wouldn't begin fundraising efforts until 2004 if he does seek re-election.

Bell, who now runs a consulting firm in Jonesboro, was unavailable for comment.

Tuggle, who was first elected sheriff in 1996, was a little surprised to see an opposition campaign building against him this early in the political season.

"It's kind of unusual for local races to start so early," Tuggle said. "I would imagine they're doing it because they're running against an incumbent."

Hill, who has served in the Clayton County Police Department for more than 10 years, is waiting for the commission to decide on a policy for county employees seeking county-level offices before completely kicking off his campaign. Hill has already begun raising funds in his bid for sheriff, though.

"The reason I want to run for sheriff is because I have a burning desire to serve and protect," Hill said. "Law enforcement is something I am very passionate about. I am not saying my opponent is doing a bad job, but I can do a dynamic job."

"Whatever sacrifice I have to make to offer myself to the people of Clayton county as a candidate for sheriff I am willing to make.

"My staff and I are discussing a tentative date for a campaign kickoff. But it could come "very soon."

We want to wait and see what decision that the commission makes (on the issue of resigning or leave of absence to run)."

Tuggle hasn't started fundraising and says he never maintains a war chest for pending elections. He declined to estimate how much money it will take to run a successful campaign for sheriff.

But he did say that his experience in the Clayton County Sheriff's Department is his strong suit in this political race. He has lived in Clayton County for more than 40 years, and, having started as a jailer and worked his way through the ranks, has 30 years of continuous service in the department.

"Nobody knows this sheriff's office better than I do," Tuggle said.

The sheriff's department has made significant advances during his tenure, Tuggle said, including changing the ethnic makeup of the personnel and command staff to reflect Clayton County's diverse population. The department has also started or expanded several community outreach programs targeting students, young drivers and other groups.

"We've been out front in a lot of areas," Tuggle said. "We've had a good two terms."

Candidates for next year's election will qualify for office April 26-30, and party primaries will be held July 20. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 2.