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Forest Park election: 'Enthusiasm vs. experience

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Tuesday's city election in Forest Park could drastically change the complexion of the current city council from majority white to majority black, depending on how well the incumbents perform.

Incumbents in Wards 3, 4, and 5 face challenges from African-American candidates Maudie McCord, La Wanda Folami, Christine Ellington and Avery Wilson.

The three incumbents are: David Halcome, Ward 3; Donald Judson, Ward 4; and Linda Lord, Ward 5.

The five-member council currently has one African-American member, Sparkle Adams, who is halfway through her first term representing Ward 1. Council member Debbie Youmans, of Ward 2, is not facing re-election. All incumbents, except Lord, have served one full term or more.

Incumbents have campaigned on their experience, saying now is not the time to shift away from proven leadership. However, the challengers see the election as an opportunity for what they believe is much-needed change.

Several key issues await the winners, including the redevelopment of Fort Gillem, and the revitalizations of the city's Main Street and the State Farmer's Market.

Ward 3 council member, Halcome, a 40-year Forest Park resident and manager of the tennis complex at Clayton County International Park, said he believes his service speaks for itself. He has served one term on the Forest Park City Council, and two terms on the Clayton County Board of Education.

"I feel like I have served the people well and I have put the people and their families first," said Halcome. A 33-year veteran of the Air Force, Halcome said he is familiar enough with Ft. Gillem -- which takes up a large portion of Ward 3 -- to make sure that the land is allocated properly after the base closure, something he believes, "could be an economic generator that could be outstanding for us."

McCord, Halcome's challenger, is a retired shipping department worker for J.C. Penney Company, Inc. She has focused her campaign on improving communications between the city government and citizens. She believes developing more informational materials will alleviate many of the city's problems by putting residents in touch with various existing programs.

"The elderly people don't know where they can get resources," said McCord. "The resources are there, but they don't know how to get them. I plan to see that they get a newsletter and make sure the churches get all the information."

Folami, another Halcome opponent, performs clerical work in the Forest Park area. She said her main goal is "bringing empowerment to the people," through more activities for youth, seniors, and more community representation on the council.

"The city hasn't put enough out there for the people, and the people haven't gone out there to get the information that they should rightfully have," said Folami. "It's time for a change." Folami said she also wants to restore some of the old store fronts in the area and put more sidewalks and crossing guards near schools.

Donald Judson, the most senior member of the city council, will enter his third, four-year term, if re-elected. His Ward 4 challenger is Ellington.

In debates, a hot-button issue in Ward 4 has been what to do about Waste Management, a privately-owned waste transfer station, on Lamar Drive in a predominately African-American area of southwest Forest Park.

Ellington, who describes herself as "an advocate for change," is an executive assistant for the Georgia Office of Emergency Medical Services. She believes the city should be doing more to alleviate the smell that drifts into the residential areas surrounding the transfer station.

"There has to be a way to contain that stench," said Ellington. The site, "has been there for over 10 years. It's affecting the neighborhood and I am sure that there are some health issues involved. Nobody is addressing this."

Judson counters that the city's hands are tied in regards to the matter, because Waste Management is a private entity. "For the people on Lamar Drive, it has been a pain, and I am sorry that it is," said Judson. "My house is backed up there, too, so on certain days, I get the smell, too. if I could do something about it, I would have done something about it a long time ago."

Judson said while the transfer station is still a problem, in his eight years as a councilman, he has been able to bring much needed drainage, gutter, and sewage work to the area.

However, Ellington said the community is "crumbling before our eyes," and "screaming for resources," which she hopes to provide, if elected.

Linda Lord, who won a special election run-off in October to succeeded her deceased husband, Wes, in the Ward 5 seat, is being challenged by Avery Wilson, a technical support engineer at Hewlett Packard in Alpharetta. Lord, a retired, 30-year resident of Forest Park, believes she has the experience, and the time, to do a better job on the council than her challenger.

"I've attended city council meetings for a number of years," said Lord. "I know the people ... I know the things we have in the city that are very good and I know some of the problems that we have here. I have the time," to serve on the council. "I don't have to worry about whether I can get off work, or not."

Wilson, who has lived in Forest Park for 12 years, believes his passion for the city, particularly its youth, makes him an ideal candidate. "I want to make a positive difference and get more people involved in what's going on in Forest Park," he said. "[The city has] a lot of programs for seniors, but they are only one section of the demographics that needs protecting."

Wilson said his goals are to create more preventative programs for Forest Park youths, increase diversity in key positions of the city government, improve public safety, and making sure minorities are among those reaping the benefits of Fort Gillem's redevelopment.

"I am going to continue to live [in Forest Park], and I want it to be the best place for my family to grow up," Wilson said.