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Voters reject sheriff, district attorney

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Clayton County voters cleaned the courthouse Tuesday, voting to get rid of Sheriff Victor Hill and District Attorney Jewel Scott.

Scott was roundly rejected, losing by a more than 20 percent margin, and Hill was edged out. Unofficially, Hill lost by 682 votes to Kem Kimbrough. The attorney and former sheriff's office major, ended the night with 51 percent of the vote.

Juvenile Judge Tracy Graham Lawson defeated Scott by collecting more than 15,000 votes.

Lawson, surrounded by shouting supporters at the Lake Spivey Golf Course, and Kimbrough, who was downed out by enthusiastic screams when reached by cell phone, both said they were ecstatic and would set the county back on track.

County Commissioner Michael Edmondson, celebrating victory with Lawson, said when the totals came in, a cheer went up: "Over the Hill and Scott free!"

Hill -- backed by TV ads that seemed to offer an apology for having made "some mistakes," and a defense of his desire to clean up the county -- led the vote count for most of the night, before losing by 2.5 percent.

With 15 percent of precincts reporting, Hill had 50 percent of the vote. Once 45 percent was counted, he had 52 percent, and he held that lead until absentee and early votes were counted. He was leading by a little more than 400 votes, but the 6,900 early and absentee voters sapped his lead.

Hill, the controversial figure who has compared himself to Christopher Columbus, Muhammad Ali, Batman and Jesus, boasted he'd be sheriff for 20 years, but ended up losing with 48 percent of the vote.

Garland Watkins, who was fired by Hill on the first day of the sheriff's tenure, and supported Kimbrough's challenge, said the results left him elated.

"It's about time we got some semblance of sanity back in the county," he said. "We're back!"

Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner, who has been attacked by Hill and Scott, said he was "dancing a jig" at the results of the election.

"It's a new day for Clayton County," he said. "It's fantastic. The citizens of Clayton County went out and they made their opinions known, and they cast their vote, and it's said and done."

District Attorney challenger Tracy Graham Lawson took an early lead over incumbent Scott and maintained it.

With the first 10 precincts in, she had almost 59 percent of the vote. Her numbers dipped a little in the middle of the count with the Ellenwood results coming in, leaving Lawson with 55 percent of the vote. Her lead grew again, as the night's counting continued and Lawson held onto a solid 57 percent to the finish.

With 59 of the 60 precincts reporting, Lawson had more than 15,000 votes, some 5,300 more than the incumbent. More people voted for Lawson than for any other single candidate in Tuesday's election.

"I actually didn't know what was going to happen," Lawson said. "I just waited for the results to come in. I am extremely happy."

Lawson said her first order of business is to meet with judges, talk to defense attorneys and figure out how to attack the backlog of cases in the district attorney's office.

Incumbent Scott did not answer either of her cell phones and did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Her deputy chief assistant district attorney, John Turner, declined to comment on the election results.

Scott won her first term in 2004, with 62 percent of the vote. She ran for re-election with the same slogan of balancing justice and mercy, but came up with about 39 percent of the vote.

Going into the runoff, Scott told the Clayton News Daily she had "no doubt that this community wants to keep me as the D.A.," but she was rejected.

Scott refused to debate Lawson during the campaign, and her ads attacked the juvenile judge, calling her a "hanging judge" and a shill of the old, white power structure.

Lawson said the racially-charged attacks backfired. The voters, she said, wanted better.

"This is the citizens of our county saying we want to be the great county we once were and we are going to be," Lawson said.

Michael Edmondson, a Clayton County commissioner, was celebrating the election results with Lawson. He said the victories of Lawson, Kimbrough and County Chairman Eldrin Bell would "really be a stake in the heart" of the spirit that's been attacking Clayton County.

"I feel great," he said, "because these are people who really want the best for Clayton County. That's better than working with people who have private agendas."