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Campaigning nears finish line

By Bob Paslay

For a list of all the candidates and for a list of the polling places, see Pages 8-9.

As races near the finish line, the saying is that it is all over but the shouting. But in the hotly contested Clayton County primary races that is not true.

Campaigning is continuing right up until the time voters go to the polls starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

A forum is scheduled tonight to give candidates one last time to convince voters to cast their votes for them. Sponsored by the Clayton County NAACP, it will be held at 6 p.m. at the Clayton County Community Services Authority at 1000 Main Street in Forest Park.

Turnout for Tuesday has been forecast by various political observers but ranges in the 25,000 to 30,000 range. To show the strong interest in this year's races, voters packed the elections office and spilled over into the hallway Friday to participate in this year's early voting. More than 1,800 votes had been cast by Thursday, and Friday's total was expected to push this number above the 2,000 mark.

In a televised debate and question session sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club and shown Sunday afternoon, the candidates for county commission chairman sparred.

Wade Starr Jr. accused Eldrin Bell of sending out campaign material with white officials endorsing him only to white voters, a charge Bell denied.

Bell countered that he was getting support from a large segment of the county, and said Starr's boss, Commission Chairman Crandle Bray even encouraged him to run.

Starr countered that Bray was now supporting him.

The third candidate, Terry Bizzell, said the 42 percent of the vote he got against Bray four years ago is still with him and he is going to win the primary. Bizzell, who has raised only $15,000 compared to $56,000 for Starr and almost $150,000 for Bell, said he is "not for sale" and questioned the large amount of money being spent on the campaign.

In the debate, Bell was asked about charges of demotion at the Atlanta Police Department and complaints of moral and ethical issues, he said he was never charged with anything. He also said recent charges that he bit a waitress on the neck are not true and eight witnesses who were at the Clayton County restaurant will help him be acquitted on that charge.

Bell asked Starr why he didn't have more influence over the decisions made at the county commission if he is administrative assistant and Starr said while he has learned a lot in that position he was not in a policy making job.

Starr countered that he was born in Clayton County but Bell only moved here a few years ago. Bell said he moved to Clayton County to look after his ailing mother and said he was encouraged by many people to run for office.

If one of the three candidates does not get 50 percent of Tuesday's vote plus one more vote, the two top vote-getters will campaign for two more weeks and then square off in a run-off. The winner will face Republican Michael Onyemenam who has no primary opposition.

All candidates for various offices are expected to campaign throughout today.

Much has been made of the changing demographics in the county that was once almost all white and now has a majority black population. Observers will be watching to see if black candidates for key posts will be able to translate those numbers into victory Tuesday. Incumbents have been stressing their experience and reaching out to both black and white voters.

This is proving to be some of the most expensive races in Clayton County history.

In the four-way race for sheriff, the candidates have raised $325,000. Two-term incumbent Sheriff Stanley Tuggle is facing opposition from lawmaker and county police detective Victor Hill, county police accident investigator Joe Mack Eckler and used car salesman Clifford Hall. Hall is the only one of the candidates with no law enforcement experience.

The third big race being watched this year is the one for district attorney in which 27-year veteran Bob Keller is being challenged by two black attorneys, Jewel Scott and Michael King.

Charges and counter-charges have been flying back and forth leading up to Tuesday's voting, but the three candidates have not faced off in any debates, letting their advertising do their talking. The race has also drawn large sums of money. Keller reported raising about $64,000 to $113,000 for the Scott campaign donated by Scott and her husband, and almost $19,000 raised by King.

Besides local partisan and non-partisan races, voters will face a series of statewide offices. Elections officials have been busy getting everything ready for Tuesday's voting and report no major problems.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.