By Joel Hall
Between now and Aug. 5, incumbent Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell and challenger, Lee Scott, will have about three weeks to prove to Clayton County voters which of them is the right man for the job.
Of paramount importance for the two rivals' camps will be figuring out how to generate enough interest to bring their supporters -- and others -- to the polls for the runoff, in the wake of such a low turnout for the primary.
Bell and Scott, however, both believe they have what it takes to move the county forward and the strategy to secure themselves the BOC chairmanship.
With low voter turnout in the primary, Bell said "its going to be difficult getting people back to the polls," but that he is "excited about the opportunities we have to win. I believe those citizens that supported us are very solid in knowing what we have accomplished for the county in the area of taxes, in the areas of ethics, zoning, to name a few," said Bell, who garnered 40.95 percent of the vote in the primary.
"They know about my position on transit, commuter rail. In our mailings, we have communicated our vision to the community, and for that reason, they will come out."
Scott, who took away 23.22 percent of the popular vote, describes himself as a world-savvy businessman, who understands the needs of the county. "It's all about the people," said Scott. "It's not really about me. It's about making positive change for the county and the people in it ... I hope they'll come out and support me again.
"I have the accomplishments and the education to make this a better county," he said. "I think the main thing we have to remember is that we do need to get back to business. We need to run an efficient government, and right now we are not doing that."
Scott said he would work to "get our accreditation out of jeopardy, collect more taxes," and "curb our spending, where it is not proper."
Bell criticized Scott's campaign for being one of flash, rather than substance, noting the amount of money Scott has spent on campaigning, and his absence at many public debates.
"[Barack] Obama didn't put that much money into Atlanta for campaigning," said Bell. "He [Scott] has refused to come to debates and has depended solely on a highly financed campaign. [Citizens] know how [Scott] has marketed himself, but they do not know the real Mr. Scott."
Based on his narrow victory over District 2 Commissioner Virginia Gray, Scott said that his campaign is "not visible enough, apparently" and he believes he needs to do more to promote the ideals of his campaign.
"I think that Virginia Gray did an excellent job in selling and marketing herself," said Scott. "I didn't do as good of a job as I should [have]. Perhaps we need to spend more."
As of Wednesday, Scott had not filed a June 30 campaign-finance disclosure report. When asked how much he had spent on his campaign, he said, "Obviously it wasn't enough, and I really don't know." He said the disclosure report was "left in the hands of somebody else and I will have to check on that."
The Scott campaign has continued to argue that wasteful spending has taken place under Bell's leadership. In interviews and in several mailings, Scott has quoted a millage rate comparison of six local governments, in which Clayton County's millage rate had soared 124 percent between 2000 and 2007.
"Nobody seems to be disputing that because that's what it is," said Scott. The figures came from a March 24 e-mail sent from Fulton County District 2 Commissioner At-Large Robb Pitts. A chart in the e-mail quotes Clayton County's millage rate as 3.913 mills in 2000 and 8.764 mills in 2007.
Pitts said that his office stands behind the figures.
"I am certain they are correct, because we would always certify these with our director of finance," said Pitts. "We stand behind the numbers because we would have not used the numbers without confirming them."
Bell said the BOC has produced a balanced budget for the last three years and that for the last two years, the millage rate has remained at 13.453 mills. "That 124 percent is just pure poppycock ... a number pulled out of the sky," said Bell. He said the accusation of a tax increase of that magnitude is "ridiculous and fraught with error."
Another issue creeping into the campaign is the issue of race. In a recent campaign mailing, Scott described his entrance to Clayton County from New York more than 20 years ago as a "time warp, a scene from the old Jim Crow days," where "members of the Court House Gang pretty much did as they pleased."
Another mailing, not addressed from the Scott campaign, but quoting the 124 percent tax increase argument, said that Bell "is seen by many as being the patsy of the White Power Structure," and urged voters not to vote for Eldrin Bell, Virginia Gray, or current BOC District 3 Commissioner Wole Ralph.
"I don't know anything about that, and those are definitely not my words," said Scott.
District 4 commissioner Michael Edmondson, who battled Scott in a runoff for his seat in 2006, said the recent mailings remind him of similar tactics Scott used in his earlier attempt at a BOC position.
"That sounds like Lee," said Edmondson. In the 2006 primary, Edmondson, Scott, and De'Mont Davis ran against one another, with Scott and Edmondson going into a runoff.
"De'Mont endorsed me against Lee, and during that period Lee got racial," said Edmondson. "He took my picture and superimposed my face over a Confederate flag and called me a grandmaster," he said, referring to a picture of Edmondson taken during a Fourth of July Parade in Jonesboro. Edmondson said he was participating in the parade with other politicians, and was standing near a float which bore both the Confederate and the American flags.
Edmondson said: "I have a little collection for my memoirs," of other racially-charged mailings that he believes were sent out by Scott. "Sometimes, it was hate with his name all over it, and sometimes it was inappropriate and his name wasn't all over it," said Edmondson. He said he is "proud to endorse Eldrin [Bell] against Lee Scott" and hoped that Bell would "put [Scott] under the rock from which he came."
"Yes, there was a mailer that did show a Confederate flag," said Scott. "We saw the old glory flag and Mr. Edmondson was near it. That's just a fact. We have to learn how to be sensitive to that, if we are going to care for all of the people of the community."
Scott denies "living in the past" in regards to race, and said his goal is to move the county forward.
"It's not really myself I am promoting," said Scott. "It's the ideas, the concepts, and the plans to address the issues of the county. It's about moving the county to a better place."
Bell said, while he is not sure the negative mailings have been sent out by Scott or a third party, he is focusing on the task ahead."I don't intend to speak about what Lee Scott is or isn't," said Bell. "I am going to run my race and let Scott speak for himself."