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Mayoral candidates battle for votes door to door

By Ed Brock

The incumbent, a former councilwoman who opposed him while in office, and a challenger who came in second the last time this position came before the voters : they are candidates for mayor of Forest Park.

And from door to door, they battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Clayton County's largest city. They are Mayor Chuck Hall, former Councilwoman Corine Deyton and 2001 mayoral runner up Darnell Moorer.

The incumbent

In the gathering twilight, Hall beats his campaign trail in a quiet neighborhood off Ash Street, brochures and business cards in hand.

“I was up at the park for over six hours Saturday, handing out brochures and talking to the people,” Hall said. “People, they like what's going on, they like what's happening with the city.”

For nearly 12 years now Hall has been mayor and the city has changed. The big topics of this campaign are the city's decision to replace its own sanitation department with a contract with the Waste Management Company for garbage pickup and the expected closing of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Gillem.

“We have quite a thing ahead of us in the coming years because of Fort Gillem,” Hall tells Katherine Coplen after she takes one of his flyers.

But Coplen admits she doesn't know much about the issues facing the community.

“I'm kind of new to the city,” Coplen said.

And Hall moves on, the darkness deepening around him. He tries to come out every night but not on Wednesdays when he spends most of the evening at his church.

Down the road Hall comes upon Earl and Sherry Hudgin at dinner with their two boys, but the couple cheerfully invites him inside.

Sherry Hudgin scoffs when Hall tells her that he has been accused of not fighting hard enough to keep Fort Gillem open.

“Like the mayor is why the base closed,” Hudgin said.

Earl Hudgin said he knows a woman who is one of the civilian employees who stand to lose their jobs when the base closes.

“She still doesn't believe it's going to happen,” he said.

Hall explains that unless Congress votes to reject the entire Base Realignment and Closure list that includes Fort Gillem and its parent facility Fort McPherson in Atlanta, then the fort will close. That vote, if it takes place, will happen next month, but if Congress takes no action the list becomes law.

After that it will take about four years for the Army to move its operations. The city's Fort Gillem Redevelopment Committee is working on what comes next, and Hall said earlier that he wants businesses to locate there that offer high-paying jobs.

The last home, across the street, is Hall's biggest challenge.

From inside a woman emerges who has some sharp words for Hall.

“I don't like politicians who run their mouths without saying anything,” she declared as Hall tried to explain his responsibilities as mayor.

The woman, who asked to be identified only as “Mary” out of fear that the city's police will hassle her, complains about the city ordinance regarding yard beautification.

“I'm just not a yard person,” Mary said. “These people who keep their yards like that have the money (for landscaping) or that's their hobby.”

Mary thinks the city's police are too intent on giving tickets at stop signs to “collect money.” She's not too happy with the new regulations that come with the Waste Management contract that requires residents to bundle tree limbs before putting them by the road for collection.

“We're paying them more money for us to do more work,” she said.

Hall mollifies Mary and her mother who lives at the house across from the Hudgins.

It's all part of politicking.

“That's what I want to hear is the complaints,” Hall said.

His challengers base their campaigns on those complaints, too.

The councilwoman

Deyton and her supporters got a call Saturday that one of her signs had been knocked down. That's not uncommon in election season.

“We've had several signs taken down,” said Doyle Barnett, Deyton's campaign manager.

They suspect foul play, but when they arrive at the scene they see that Hall's equally large sign that had stood next to Deyton's was also on the ground. Councilman Donald Judson took pictures of both signs to show that they weren't responsible, then they re-erected Deyton's sign and called Hall to tell him what had happened.

About two years ago when Deyton was on the council Judson, Councilwoman Debbie Youmans and Deyton formed a three-party coalition that frequently opposed Hall. And 68-year-old Deyton attended every public meeting regarding the city's contract with Waste Management.

When she leaves the location of the knocked-over signs Deyton goes to the home of 85-year-old James Holloway, one of her supporters. Sitting in the living room of the home on Findley Drive that Holloway's parents had bought while he was fighting in World War II, Deyton tells Holloway that signing over the garbage pickup was “the straw that broke the camel's back” in her decision to run for mayor.

At the meeting, Deyton said, the citizens in attendance had voted that they would be willing to pay more to keep the city's sanitation service.

“(Hall) said ‘Well, the people have spoken,'” Deyton said. “I took that to mean that they were not going to do that.”

Instead, the council voted to adopt the new plan, and Holloway didn't like it, either.

“What kind of city is it that can't run its own things?” Holloway asked.

Holloway, Deyton and Judson's wife Louise Judson talk about the need to give the citizens back their voice. Deyton said she wants the city to do something now for the people rather than focusing too much on what will happen with Fort Gillem years in the future.

In fact, Deyton said she wants the 1,400 acres to be used to store emergency equipment in the event of another disaster like Hurricane Katrina.

“We need something ready to go,” Deyton said.

Holloway also had a run-in with the city's environmental court over his selling tomatoes at the house, tomatoes he had grown in his back yard. He had gone to jail over that issue, but Holloway said there once was a time when his parents kept chickens and hogs at that same house.

“I've been here all my life and it's just changing and there's not much you can do about it,” Holloway said.

Things are changing in other parts of the city, and the third candidate in this race is keeping tabs on that.

Re-match in Rosetown

In 2001 Moorer, 52, ran against Hall and came in second in a field of three candidates. In this campaign he's building on that prior attempt.

“A number of people remember my name from the last time but they just couldn't remember my face,” Moorer said.

On Saturday Moorer was showing that face to the voters. Driving down a street in Forest Park's Rosetown community, Moorer sees two men he has to talk to and he pulls over for a chat.

The men are Will Willis, retired from the Ford Motor Company plant in Hapeville, and Leonard Hartsfield, Jr., who owns the small cabinet shop in front of which the men stood. The two are fixtures of Rosetown, Forest Park's primarily black community.

Willis, 74, said he has about a million issues he wants candidates like Moorer to address.

“The number one concern I have is the exclusion of the citizenry in the process,” Willis said.

Lately the city council is considering a change in rules for allowing public input at council meetings. The new rule requires citizens to sign up two hours before the meeting, something Willis said is fine for the council but bad for the citizens.

The three men talk about a host of issues. They talk about how the city's environmental regulations forced some Rosetown residents to have to borrow money to tear down houses that couldn't be brought up to code.

Most of the houses in that part of town were built some 50 years ago and most of the residents just don't have the money to upgrade the houses.

“(The city) should have been more sensitive to that fact and taken another step,” Willis said.

Moorer told the men he was concerned about the drug dealing that was going on in the neighborhood. Hartsfield said he had some confrontations with local dealers several years ago and police managed to crack down a little.

But, as Willis put it, the problem simply “changed faces and places.”

“It's not as open now,” Hartsfield said. “But it's still here.”

Moorer left the men to go on to bring a sign to one of his supporters a block away. He finds Donna Barkley sitting on the porch of her Third Street house, chopping greens.

Barkley reiterates Mary's complaint that the city's police are more interested in writing tickets than fighting real crime. In the 12 years since her husband and she moved to the city their home has been burglarized four times, she said.

“My insurance has been canceled,” Barkley said.

Louis Bunch, Moorer's second sign recipient for that day, lives on upscale Sequoia Drive where, he says, there has also been a rash of break-ins. Bunch wants the city to do more about public safety and addressing the gang issue.

He wants Moorer to form a grassroots group of citizens to help with that, and Moorer asks him if he can be part of that group.

“I can probably help,” Bunch said.

Moorer places two signs on Bunch's front yard, and finishes his rounds for the day.

The Forest Park municipal election is Nov. 8. It will also include a run for Ward 1 and Ward 2 of the city council.