Candidates kick off qualifying

By Billy Corriher

As soon as the doors opened at 9 a.m. Monday, Clayton County candidates were waiting in line to qualify for this year's elections.

Former Atlanta Police Chief Eldrin Bell and Wade Starr, administrative assistant to the county commission, both filed to run for chairman of the county commissioners Monday morning.

Starr, who has worked with the county commissioners for three years, said his experience makes him the most qualified candidate for chairman.

"The person who is chairman of the county commissioners has to not only deal with policies, but manage the day-to-day operations of county government," he said. "No other candidate has that kind of experience in Clayton County."

Starr said he will be able to address concerns that residents have brought to him, like quality of growth and education.

"I think there are some good people bringing their families into the county," he said. "But there is a real need to create housing in the upper-middle income range."

Starr said he also wants the county to be more aggressive with code enforcement and animal control. He said the county also needs to hire more police officers to keep up with population control.

Bell said his campaign will rely on his leadership experience.

"Clayton County is at the crossroads," he said. "This isn't a time to experiment with leadership. We need someone with his own proven track record and extensive leadership experience."

Bell's platform includes a "Clayton County Action Plan," which includes lower crime rates, safer streets and "smart economic development approaches."

Bell said that if he was elected, he would work to bring together the county's municipal leaders, school administrators, businesses, and county officials to work on a comprehensive plan for the county.

Sheriff's race draws four

Also in line to qualify Monday morning were four candidates for county sheriff.

Detective Joe Mack Eckler of the Clayton County Police Department said he filed Monday morning even though the county's policy of forcing employees to seek a leave of absence to run for office is still up in the air. The county's policy was challenged by another candidate, detective Victor Hill, and the county is waiting to have the Department of Justice clear the policy as required under the Voting Rights Act.

"Whatever the commissioners decide, I'm going to follow it," he said. "I think it's very important that everybody in the county government work together."

Eckler said his campaign will focus on putting more money toward crime prevention and programs to keep the county's youth out of gangs.

"I've locked up thousands of people in my career, and it hasn't done anything," he said.

Eckler said he would cut overtime pay for jail employees and put the money toward community programs.

"It doesn't take much to make a gigantic difference in the community," he said.

Sheriff Stanley Tuggle said he is counting on his experience from 30 years in the sheriff's department n including eight years as sheriff n for his reelection campaign.

"There's no way anybody knows more about the sheriff's department than I do," he said.

Tuggle said he has guided the department through the county's explosive growth and changing population in the past decade.

"I have made sure the Sheriff's office reflects the community in which we serve," he said. "We do that better than any other county department."

But Hill said the escalating crime rate in Clayton County means that new law enforcement leadership is needed.

"We don't just need a new sheriff, we need a tough sheriff," he said.

Hill said he had a plan to pinpoint high-crime areas in the county and focus law enforcement on those areas. Hill said he also wanted to see "realistic programs" to deter youth from crime.

Hill said he is still waiting to hear from the county or the Justice Department about the department's decision on the county's policy on employees running for office.

"I'm not even worried about it," he said. "I'm going to run my race and run to win."

Hill said the county's enforcement of the policy is an attempt to discourage him from running.

"I will not be intimidated," he said. "This country is based on the ideology that gives every man and woman the right to run for office."

Used car salesman Clifford Hall also qualified to run for sheriff on Monday.

"I want to see what I can do to make this a better county," Hall said. "I just want to work for the people of Clayton County."

Hall said he is still talking to residents about their concerns with the sheriff's department.

With the news last week that Commissioner Gerald Matthews will not seek reelection, Jonesboro businessman Wole Ralph and Riverdale resident Charles Davis filed Monday to qualify to run for Matthews' seat.

"We've got a pretty good county already," Davis said. "I've watched Clayton County grow, and I want to make sure it continues to grow in a positive direction."

Probate Judge Pam Ferguson filed to defend her seat, and Magistrate Court Judge Gloria Reed filed to run for Chief Magistrate, a position that will be open since Judge Michael Baird announced last week that he will not seek reelection.

Solicitor, opponent file

County Solicitor Keith Martin filed to run for reelection, and local attorney Leslie Miller-Terry qualified to challenge Martin.

District Attorney Bob Keller qualified to defend his seat, and local attorney Jewel Scott, who ran for state Senate in 2002, filed to run against Keller.

Eddie White, who was a teacher and administrator in Clayton County schools for 43 years, also filed to run for the school board seat being vacated by Bob Livingston, who decided not to seek reelection.

White said his experience makes him qualified to serve on the school board.

"I'm very, very concerned about our school system," White said.

David Ashe, a retired state employee, qualified to run for school board member Carol Kellam's seat. Ashe said he sent two children through Clayton County schools, and he has been active on school councils and Parent-Teacher Associations.

"(Running for school board) will give me an opportunity to give back to the community," Ashe said. "I think I have things to offer the school board in terms of leadership and experience."

Statewide races draw candidates

Statewide, the marquee race was for the U.S. Senate, but key congressional seats were also at stake along with control of the state Legislature.

Among the first in line in the state Senate chambers, where Republicans were qualifying, was U.S. Senate candidate Herman Cain, 57, former chairman of the Godfather's pizza chain.

Cain told reporters he will offer real solutions instead of talk. "I'm running against two politicians. I'm not a politician. I'm a problem solver."

Race is immaterial in the campaign, said Cain, who is black.

"I have been to nearly 90 counties around the state of Georgia. I have been overwhelmingly received. And people didn't come in saying, ?I want to go and see the black Republican.' They come in and say, ?I want to go see this guy Herman Cain who is giving me hope that we can change Washington, D.C."'

Two Republican congressmen ? Reps. Johnny Isakson of Marietta and Mac Collins ? qualified Monday in the race for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Zell Miller. A fourth Republican candidate, businessman Al Bartell, also was expected to qualify.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Denise Majette, state Sen. Mary Squires of Norcross and Decatur public interest lawyer Gary Leshaw were considered likely candidates. Millionaire entrepreneur Cliff Oxford was considering the race.

Majette made a surprise jump into the Senate race just last month. Squires and Republicans have been actively campaigning ? and raising money ? for many months.

Qualifying Monday, Majette wouldn't say how much she's raised but insisted she could compete.

"I expect we will have all the funds we need," she said. "Whatever it costs, we will have enough."

The scramble to succeed Miller left three open seats in Congress and at least seven state lawmakers were looking to step into the seats that Isakson, Collins and Majette were giving up.

Fierce competition was expected for two other congressional district seats ? the 3rd, which Democrat Jim Marshall won by just 413 votes two years ago, and the 12th, which Republican Max Burns won two years ago although it was drawn to be safe for a Democrat.

With Republicans now in control of the governor's office and the Senate, party leaders now have set their sights on winning a majority in the House.

In the run up to qualifying, Gov. Sonny Perdue put on a full court press to persuade more than a dozen House Democrats to switch parties. Through week's end, four had done so but Democrats still held a 104-75 majority, with one independent.

Whether or not the balance of power changes next year, the Legislature will have a sea of fresh faces. Many of the longest-serving lawmakers are retiring. Among them is 85-year-old Sen. Hugh Gillis, D-Soperton, who spent 56 years in the body.

First in line Monday for Democrats was House Speaker Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, who predicted Democrats will retain control of the chamber.

The Associated Press contributed the news of statewide races to this story.