Political transition begins immediately for some

By Justin Boron

Eldrin Bell, who will be the first African-American county commission chairman, isn't waiting long to take on the learning curve for the position he won in a landslide victory Tuesday night.

Taking about 75 percent of the vote, he will meet Monday with current Chairman Crandle Bray to discuss the county's budget as he begins to make his transition into the county's first majority African-American county commission.

The demographic shift, which has reflected a historical time in Clayton County politics, has been a major goal in community activists like Dexter Matthews and Roberta-Abdul Salaam, who won the state House District 74 seat formerly occupied by Sheriff-elect Victor Hill.

The official victory of multiple African-American candidates Tuesday is a huge stride toward the goal of balancing representation with the will of the Clayton County populous, said Matthews, the president of the Clayton County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

But the leap in representation is only the start, he said.

"The transition is not entirely over," Matthews said. "We still have a majority of cities with no minorities in key positions."

Matthews said he would like to see more diversity in Forest Park, Lovejoy, Morrow, and Lake City.

The number of minority contracts also needs into increase in both the county government and the school district, he said.

Abdul-Salaam said she was not at all surprised by the shift in politics.

"I helped orchestrate it," she said. "It is just time, it reflects the community as it should."

Amid the success of black candidates this election, Abdul-Salaam and Matthews both stressed the importance of a united county that works to include the county's other Latino and Asian minorities.

Matthews said part of that union came in the form of a huge voter turnout in Clayton County, where at least 71,000 of the 125,000 estimated registered voters showed up at the polls.

Annie Bright, director of elections and registration, said the number didn't include the provisional ballots, which would be counted by Friday.

At least one precinct had a 90 percent turnout and lines lasting later into the night than anywhere else in the state, said Kara Sinkule, the spokesperson for the Secretary of State.

The lines wrapped around Mt. Zion High School until late Tuesday.

Bright said it would be one of the precincts that would have to be split up for the next election because almost 4,000 voters were registered there.

Sinkule said the Secretary of State Cathy Cox was encouraging counties to expand their advanced voting locations for the next election.

The office also is looking at how to streamline the check-in process, where Sinkule said the majority of the bottlenecking occurs.

But conversion of the check-in process to a more digitized system would ultimately take legislation, she said.