By Curt Yeomans
With all but the provincial ballots counted in Clayton County, residents in two Clayton County Board of Education districts now know who has advanced to the Dec. 2 runoffs, which will complete the nine-member school board for the first time since March.
Retired educator, Pam Adamson, will face Fulton County school teacher, Cleopatra Ballantyne, in the District 1 special election runoff, while Lt. Charlton Bivins, of the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department, will face Irene Lewis, a training manager for AT&T, in the District 9 runoff.
The winners of the runoffs will take office immediately.
The candidates spent Wednesday preparing themselves for another three and a half weeks of campaigning as they make the transition from races that had a combined 15 people running for the two seats, to one-on-one contests.
"I was ready to sit down and breathe a sigh of relief, but I'm going to keep getting out there and sharing my views with other people," Lewis said. "I got in this to win."
Special elections in Districts 1 and 9 were held on Tuesday to determine who would fill the remaining two years of the unexpired terms of former school board Chairperson Michelle Strong and former Vice chairperson Sandra Scott. Strong and Scott were removed from office for alleged misconduct on Aug. 28 by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
There were 10 candidates in the District 1 special election, and five in the District 9 race. However, Adamson and Bivins quickly developed commanding leads and it became clear they had advanced to their respective runoffs. Who they would face was not settled until counting of the early and advance ballots was completed just before 7 a.m., on Wednesday.
Adamson earned 30 percent -- nearly one-third -- of the votes in the special election. It went down to the wire to see whether Ballantyne of Dominick Crea would face Adamson in the runoff. Ballantyne led Crea early on. However, as the evening progressed, their positions quickly reversed and Crea had a slight advantage over Ballantyne.
In the end, it was the early and advanced voters who put Ballantyne ahead with 14.46 percent of the vote, compared to 11.01 percent for Crea.
Adamson said she was surprised when she woke up Wednesday morning to see how much of a surge she and Ballantyne received from the early and advanced voters. Ballantyne went up by one and a half percentage points, but Adamson increased by nearly three points. Meanwhile, Crea dropped three points.
Adamson surmised that her boost was the result of getting out to talk to voters about her qualifications shortly after qualifying for the race in September. She worked for the school system for 30 years, eventually rising to an assistant superintendent position under former Superintendent Joe Hairston. She also has served on accreditation review teams for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
"I'm going to rest for the remainder of this week, and then I'm going to get back to what I was doing before -- getting out and talking to people about myself and why I'm running," said Adamson.
Ballantyne could not be reached for comment.
In District 9, the race to see who would face Bivins did not shift in terms of where the top two candidates sat, but Lewis continued to hold only a slight lead over opponent James Searcy throughout the night. Lewis began to open the margin around midnight, but even then she held a mere 4-point lead over Searcy.
Once the early and advanced ballots were counted, Lewis had 22.72 percent of the vote, while Searcy had 16.43 percent. Meanwhile, Bivins led the field with 38.7 percent of the vote.
Lewis and Bivins were hoping to be finished with the race after Tuesday, but they are ready for more grassroots-style campaigning. Lewis said she gained more campaign volunteers on Wednesday as news spread about the runoff. Weeks of campaigning have also prepared her to set her sights on Bivins, she added.
"We've been participating in all of these candidates forums, so I know [Bivins]," said Lewis. "I know his platform and where he stands on the issues."
Bivins said he initially ran off the name recognition of the Concerned Citizens of Clayton County (C4) community group, which Bivins has been leading, but is currently taking a hiatus for the campaign.
He also went door to door in some neighborhoods and stood at high-traffic intersections waving to drivers during early morning hours. He is changing his strategy to emphasize more of his qualifications.
"I need to do more face-to-face time with people to find out what they want from me as a candidate," Bivins said. "I walked some neighborhoods before, but I've got to walk a lot more this time."