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Runoff candidates campaign, injunction threatened

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

On Tuesday, the citizens of Riverdale are expecting to cast their votes once more to pick a mayor and Ward 2 councilmember.

However, at 9:30 a.m., today, two unsuccessful candidates in the Nov. 6 election will request that the Clayton County Superior Court stop Tuesday's runoff election and void the previous results. The two claim voter fraud, ballot tampering, and illegal campaigning took place before that election.

Incumbent Mayor Phaedra Graham is preparing to defend her seat against political newcomer, Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, and Ward 2 Councilwoman Michelle Bruce faces Wayne Hall.

In preparation for the election, Riverdale citizens organized two public forums to give candidates a chance to discuss their platforms and field questions from the public. The latest of these took place Thursday night at Riverdale First United Methodist Church. Only Wynn-Dixon and Bruce appeared.

Both Wynn-Dixon and Bruce spoke to a mostly favorable crowd, and their comments were often met with applause.

"I want to let people now how we should act ... how a city should be operating," said Wynn-Dixon. "I want to take dignity, humbleness, and humility into the City Hall [so that] people want to work with us and do not dread coming to City Hall."

Wynn-Dixon said that, if elected, she would implement a 100-day "healing process" to restore the citizens' faith in their elected officials.

While Wynn-Dixon focused on her plans for the city, Bruce focused on her accomplishments during her one term in office, and her plans to go forward with the city's Town Center development project.

"Two out of three Riverdale citizens voted to move on building the Town Center," said Bruce. "After a challenge from special-interest groups, we are back on track with this project. To do what is right for all of the people of Riverdale ... that is why I am here today."

Bruce, a transgender candidate who identifies as a woman, also spoke of allegations made by Stan Harris and Georgia Fuller -- two candidates who lost in the Nov. 6 election -- that she is a man, who lied to voters by running for office as a female.

"I am in a runoff election, because special-interest groups believe that if they can spend enough money ... and make these false and personal attacks against me ... they can win," Bruce said. "Well, they're wrong. We can do a whole lot better."

Citizens expressed displeasure that Graham and Hall did not attend the forum.

"It was disappointing that the mayor and the other candidate didn't show up to answer questions, which raises questions to me," said Helenia Ford, of Riverdale. "Why should we put you in office, if you don't care enough to come out."

"How are you going to support the people when you don't even show up to find out what the citizens' concerns are," said Audrey Cole, a Riverdale business owner. "Riverdale needs a new beginning. Right now we are at a standstill ... tonight represents a door-opener."

Hall, who attended the first political forum on Nov. 1, was not present at Thursday's forum due to a scheduling conflict, he said. "I certainly would have been in attendance," said Hall.

Graham, who was not present at the Nov. 1 or Nov. 29 forums, prepared a statement going into the runoff, which read in part: "I am working diligently to reach as many voters as I can. "Hence, due to schedule constraints, I had to attend to a prior scheduled commitment."

While Tuesday's election will go forward as scheduled, according to Riverdale city officials, the hearing today in Superior Court could cancel the election results.

During the hearing, Riverdale Ward 4 councilman Kenny Ruffin will answer to allegations of illegal campaigning during a public event, City Clerk Stephanie Thomas will answer accusations that ballots were tampered with during the Nov. 6 election, and Bruce will answer to allegations that she lied about her gender.

Riverdale City Attorney Deana Johnson, who will represent city officials in court, said the law is on the city's side. "I think the law is pretty clear in maintaining election results," said Johnson. "It's a hard burden of proof for the plaintiff, I'll tell you that."

Michael King, the Jonesboro attorney representing Harris and Fuller, could not be reached for comment Friday. Harris, however, said he and Fuller would appeal the decision, if the judge rules against them.