By Daniel Silliman
A candidates forum got off to an aggressive start Monday night, and continued, to the cheers of the audience, as strong words and sharp attacks were the order of the evening.
The first panel featured four of the candidates for the Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman's seat. Earl Randall, a challenger who formerly served as chief of staff in the District Attorney's Office, opened with an anti-incumbent call, saying he is tired of the "incumbent's incompetence," and that he represents "a new vision for change in Clayton County."
Virginia Burton Gray, who has served three terms on the commission and is now running for board chair, said she has "never run a negative campaign, bashing others." She pointedly looked at Randall, and the audience laughed.
Eldrin Bell, the current chairman, seemed to elbow Randall during one question, and pointed out that Randall's time was up. After Bell, who is 71, said he is healthy enough to "wear out any two 29 year olds," Randall slighted his age.
When the chairman gave a rambling answer to a question about the county's economic condition, and then said he forgot what the question was, Randall said his answer was incoherent.
In the second panel of candidates, at the forum sponsored by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and the Clayton County Wide Homeowners Association, the two women vying for the position of Solicitor General took the stage. The challenger, Tasha Mosley, who served as a prosecutor under a previous administration, immediately attacked incumbent, Leslie Miller Terry.
Mosley accused the incumbent of dismissing more than 400 cases a year, not knowing how to prosecute domestic violence cases, and not communicating with law enforcement agencies.
"I will teach the prosecutors how to prosecute these cases, so they don't dismiss them," Mosley promised.
Miller Terry never directly responded to the attacks, instead saying she, as solicitor general, knew how to balance fairness with aggressive prosecution.
Mosley resurrected the opening charge of the night, in her statement, alleging that the incumbent was "incompetent."
As a notable exception to the forum's aggressive tone, the four men challenging the sitting sheriff were all amiable. Victor Hill, who is up for re-election for the first time in July, was not present at the forum. The contenders attacked him calmly, as if they assumed everyone already knew what they said was true.
Kem Kimbrough, an attorney and a former commander in the sheriff's office, said Clayton County's "system of justice is falling apart" because of Hill, and someone in the audience shouted, "Amen."
All four of the candidates said they opposed Hill's idea of consolidating the sheriff's office with the county police department. All said the integrity of the office needed to be restored. All said the sheriff is supposed to enforce the law, and is not above the law.
"Of course," candidate Jack Rainwater said, "you knew we were all going to hit on all the same points."
Whatever agreeableness was in the room left with the fourth panel of candidates, as the two challengers in the race for district attorney moved in swiftly and meanly.
Herbert Adams, a defense attorney who serves as a municipal judge in Forest Park, said incumbent Jewel Scott is letting "baby killers go free" while prosecuting groundless, politically motivated cases.
Tracy Graham-Lawson, a juvenile judge who served as an assistant district attorney under a previous administration, also raised the image of dead children as a reason not to re-elect the district attorney. In the current administration, Graham-Lawson said, "children's murders go unavenged," "prosecutions appear to be politically motivated," and the backlog of cases is "enormous."
Scott was not at the forum, reportedly being called away for a fatally ill family member. Her Chief Executive Assistant District Attorney John Turner attended in her stead, apologizing for her absence and deftly dodging criticism.
Turner said the prosecutors, under Scott, have successfully won the "high profile cases," and he touted the racketeering case made against the county's massage parlors.
Turner defended Scott's pursuit and acceptance of money from the city of Lovejoy, even though the city's mayor is under investigation, saying the council granted the money, not the mayor. He said prosecutors were going to re-indict a case that was recently dismissed against a man who confessed to killing a child. He said Scott didn't need trial experience to be a successful district attorney, because Atlanta-area district attorneys don't try cases, but hire and direct experienced prosecutors.
Adams retorted: "You have to at least know how to try a case."
The forum concluded with the candidates for commissioner in District 2 and District 3.
District 3 incumbent, Wole Ralph, pointed to a list of fulfilled promises, including more police officers and a zoning moratorium to stop growth, but he was broadly bashed by challenger, Michael Bryant.
Bryant said he is running against Ralph because the residents of the county's panhandle deserve a representative who will "show up for meetings," "answer phone calls," and "not get involved in special interests."
Bryant said he is challenging the incumbent with three promises: He promised to show up, he promised to understand what was going on, and he promised to listen.
After more than two hours, the forum ended as it began, with the audience applauding as pugnacious challengers aggressively attacked the incumbents and the status quo.