Virginia Gray wins renomination

By Ed Brock

Eldrin Bell was already planning his victory party in the race for Clayton County Commission chairman long before the votes were counted, and his confidence was not misplaced.

"It's not so much that I was cocky or over confident, I just felt the momentum of the people of Clayton County," Bell said.

In the race for two seats on the commission, incumbent Democrat Virginia Gray defeated Danny Hayes for the District 2 seat and Charles Davis was leading but apparently forced into a runoff for District 3.

Bell, Wade Starr and Terry Bizzell were all competing for the chairman seat left open by outgoing Commission Chairman Crandle Bray.

Bell earned 14,632 votes, Starr 8,763 and Bizzell 2,803.

His confidence in being victorious came from the outpouring of support he received from the people, Bell said.

"The people of this county were marvelous and they deserve all the credit for this victory," Bell said.

In return, Bell said, he will work tirelessly for the people. He wants to promote the county's historic and cultural base by working with groups like Arts Clayton and Historic Jonesboro.

"I want to make this a county that people want to visit," Bell said.

As a result of that drive, Bell said, small businesses will prosper. Bell also said he wants to clean up the county.

Bell, 68, of Jonesboro is a former chief of police in Atlanta who currently works as security consultant.

The major issues that Bell wants to address are the economy, crime and zoning, with economic growth at the apex. He is also concerned with overcrowding in schools and the rise in criminal and gang activity in the county.

Previously Bell said that he wants to develop incentives to lure new companies to the county, to ensure fair representation by minority and women-owned business in county contracts and to hire more police officers.

Starr, 51, of Jonesboro took some leave from his position as administrative assistant to Bray so he can run for Bray's seat. He is also the owner of The Starr Insurance Agency.

Bizzell, 52, of Lovejoy is currently the second in command for the criminal docket of Fulton County Superior Court. This was his third try for the county commission chair.

Starr will go on to face Republican candidate Michael Onyemenam, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary, in a Nov. 2 election.

In one House Democratic race with no incumbent, House 74. Roberta Abdul-Salaam led with 1,471 votes to 1,397 for George Jeburk, 842 for John E. Jones and 408 for Johnny Felan Casteneda. The winner of the primary will face Republican Emory Wilkerson.

Gray more than doubled the results Hayes with absentee and early votes still to be counted.

Gray, who has served as commissioner for eight years, received 3,160 votes as compared to Hayes, a fitness director, who tallied 1,444 votes.

Gray has served on the county commission since 1997 when she was elected as the first black commissioner in the county.

Davis was the vote leader for the open District 3 county commission seat with 2,517 votes with early and absentee votes yet to be counted as of press time.

Wole Ralph had 1,673 votes, Cedric McCrary had 1,672 votes, Ronald Ringer had 1,616 votes and Zannie "Tiger" Billingslea had 566 votes.

Davis had said that it's time for a change in the county in his quest for the seat vacated by Gerald Matthews, who decided not to run.

Through service on the county commission, he had said he wants to improve the school system. Working with zoning, code enforcement and other county departments, he would address concerns of the system's accreditation, which had been in jeopardy, and the growing number of trailers serving as temporary classrooms.

Davis wants to pass an ordinance to maintain and increase green space in the county.

"Our county is growing faster than most counties," Davis had said. "Our land in Clayton County is about to run out."

Rather than attracting pawnshops, liquor stores and spas, the county should be attracting businesses that require skilled labor, he said. Redevelopment should include "high value, high quality" housing as well.

As a former supervisory management analyst for the U.S. Department of Labor, Ralph said he flew around the country studying various counties, seeing what works and what doesn't work.

"I really thought it was my responsibility to bring my tangible skills to the table of my county," he said.

McCrary was campaigning on a platform to prevent problems before they become problems. To curb gang activity and other youth violence, the county must provide more youth activities.

"A lot of people don't consider it a strong enough issue until tragedy strikes," McCrary said.

The Clayton County school system is "lacking greatly" and needs help with after school programs. The system also needs help dealing with the booming growth of the county.

The first step to resolving these issues is to restore communication between the county and the school system.

"I definitely look forward to meeting and finding out what we can do to resolve their problems," McCrary said.

The runoff will be held Aug. 10.