By Daniel Silliman
Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill fell just short of outright victory in his re-election bid. With 59 of 60 precincts having reported just after midnight Wednesday, the controversial, first term sheriff had 49.06 percent of the vote in the county's Democratic primary.
Kem Kimbrough, an attorney with some experience as a major in the sheriff's office, edged his way into the primary runoff with 26.5 percent of the vote.
According to the as-yet unofficial election results, Hill got 12,900 votes and the four Democrats running against him had a combined total of 13,397.
Early in the night, with the first 15 precincts counted, Hill took a strong lead, with 54 percent of the vote. As parts of Jonesboro, Lovejoy and the Panhandle area were counted, however, his numbers dropped to 50 percent, and then to 49 percent. As the Riverdale-area votes came in, however, Hill's support picked up and surged ahead.
With 58 of the 60 precincts reporting, Hill had 52 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff and move forward to face Republican Jack Rainwater in the general election.
At about midnight, Tuesday, some of the men who sought to unseat the sheriff conceded they had misread their chances and misjudged the county.
"I'm a little bit shocked. I thought I'd do better than that," said Sherman Lemon, a major who retired from the county police department after almost 40 years of service.
Lemon never had more than single-digit support, and ended the night with about 4.9 percent of the vote, one tenth of ballots cast for Hill.
"The people made their voice known and I can accept that," Lemon said. "If they vote him back in, they'll get what they asked for, but I guess I can move on."
Ernest Strozier, a lieutenant at the College Park Police Department, who ran an aggressive campaign aimed at convincing voters Hill was incompetent, egomaniacal and corrupt, was less philosophical about his loss.
"I'm just flabbergasted at the people of this county," Strozier said. "He sold them an illusion and they fell for it ... It can't get any worse, and these people voted for him again."
Strozier's campaign manager, Mike Murphy, said he was crestfallen at the results of the race."I gave the voters a lot more credit than they deserve," he said.
Some who voted for Hill, speaking to the Clayton News Daily while leaving the polls, Tuesday, explained their continued support, in the face of controversies, law suits and scandals.
Cathy Gunnells, of Jonesboro, a self-identified Republican, said that, in spite of some controversies, she supports the sheriff. "He's just a jerk who does his job," Gunnells said.
Barbara Hobart, a retired secretary who has lived in Clayton County for 50 years, said fighting crime in this county is a difficult job and she wants Hill to take on the drug dealers and the houses of prostitution for the next four years.
"I personally think Sheriff Hill is doing as good a job as anybody can do," she said. "He just has to learn how to control his mouth. That is his biggest downfall. He is trying to clean up the county and go against drugs and prostitution, even if he sometimes goes about it the wrong way."
Hill looked like he had the race wrapped up, but the 59th precinct, the early voters, threw the race into a runoff, bringing Hill down from 52 percent of the vote to 49, and setting him up to face Kimbrough on Aug. 5.
"It was looking a little bleak," Kimbrough said, "but I'm back in it, from day one."
He said he wanted to see a solid runoff, and hoped the anti-Hill vote would come together. In the general primary, with the race crowded by challengers, the anti-Hill vote was "fractured all to hell," he said.
On another part of the Democrat's ballot, though, voters repudiated Hill's vision of abolishing the county police department and having the sheriff's office be the only, county-wide law enforcement agency. On a non-binding question of consolidation, voters opposed it by a solid 55 percent.
The District Attorney's race, with three Democrats competing in the primary, will also go to a runoff, with incumbent Jewel Scott and Juvenile Court Judge Tracy Graham-Lawson.
Scott, who was seeking re-election to her second term, got 41.03 percent of the vote. Graham-Lawson got 38.2 percent of the vote, trailing the sitting district attorney by a mere 700 votes.
Herbert Adams, a Riverdale attorney and a Forest Park judge, trailed with about 20 percent of the vote. Adams' campaign suffered from some sever attacks, but, conceding on Tuesday night, he said he would consider running again.
"We're disappointed that we didn't win," Adams said. "We're worn out. We're tired. But it's not my last race."
Other criminal justice races, in the county's Democratic primary, saw two clear wins.
Superior Court Clerk Linda T. Miller, who has been court clerk for 16 years, easily won re-election to another four-year term. She had 62 percent of the vote at the end of the night, and more than twice the number of ballots as her nearest challenger.
Tasha Mosley, seeking to unseat Solicitor General incumbent Leslie Miller Terry, won with 54.6 percent of the vote.
Mosely, an assistant solicitor general in Henry County who once worked for Terry, attributed the win to her clean campaign and the support she got from the Jonesboro High School Mock Trial Team, the two-time national champions she helped coach.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Mosley said. "And Lord have mercy! It's a long night and it's been a long, hard-fought battle."