House 74 candidates step up efforts in campaign's final week

By Justin Boron

With just over a week to go before Election Day, the two candidates vying for the State House of Representatives seat in District 74 are stepping up their efforts to gain exposure, knock on voter doors and flag down people headed into the supermarket.

The two will engage each other in a political forum Tuesday in Morrow along with a number of other candidates from different races.

Republican nominee Emory Wilkerson of Fayetteville said he has visited more than 4,000 homes to hear citizen concern and try to convince them to vote his direction for the open seat, formerly held by Clayton County Sheriff-elect Victor Hill.

Roberta Abdul-Salaam, D-Riverdale said she too has combed the district, which includes parts of Clayton and Fayette counties, talking to voters in parking lots, parks, and at their door steps. Her political season stretching from earlier this summer, when she defeated three opponents in the Democratic primary, has been exhausting, she said.

The two candidates said they have sought to strike a balance in representation of the two counties, which often embrace opposing political points of view.

Mass transit, which has become an important issue in Clayton County, receives a more lukewarm response in the less-developed Fayette County, both said.

Abdul-Salaam said she recognized the importance of transit such as commuter rail and bus for Clayton County citizens, but also understands the demand is simply not there in Fayette County.

"Transportation has to be a big consideration. I'm in favor of commuter rail, but I'm not sure what it does for the district," she said. "Fayette County does not need a C-TRAN, what they may need is something like an express bus system."

Wilkerson wraps his resolution for the area's transportation problems in economic plans to enhance small business in the community.

"If we can have more strong small businesses, they will produce more jobs, so less people will commute out of the district," he said.

Wilkerson said he would work to clear the regulatory hurdles for small business.

"We do not need to over-regulate small business as a government," he said.

Both candidates played up their political experience, but despite efforts to pad their resume, either candidate will be a freshman representative in the legislature without ever holding an elected-position.

Wilkerson said he has relationships with the legislature already, saying his job takes him there frequently.

"I know my way around the Capitol," he said. "I already know what it takes to get bills passed. I know how to draft them."

Similarly, Abdul-Salaam cites her juvenile-justice work in the state legislature to stop children from being sent to adult prisons.

"I'm going in as a freshman legislator, but I am not going in new," she said.

Abdul-Salaam also has no qualms about saying her experience exceeds that of her opponent.

"Wilkerson has experience, it's just different," Abdul-Salaam said. "I have better experience, I am the best woman for this job."

Although Abdul-Salaam said she is confident of victory, she will have to pick up some of the Republican vote in Wilkerson's home turf to win.

"I'm the Democratic-nominee and we're counting on people to support the Democratic ticket from the top all the way down," she said. "I fully expect some of the Republican vote. I expect them to vote for good leadership."