By Joel Hall
Only two weeks after qualifying to run, Lovejoy Mayor Joe Murphy has abandoned a bid to seek the District 4 seat on the Clayton County Commission.
On Friday afternoon, Murphy's attorney Steve Frey handed Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration Director Annie Bright a notarized letter informing her of Murphy's decision to withdraw from the race.
The letter reads: "As a lifelong resident, I will always be committed to the betterment of this County. However, after much reflection, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy from the race for Clayton County Commission, District Four. Instead, I will remain focused, as I have been for the past 22 years, on serving the citizens of the City of Lovejoy. Sincerely, Joseph L. Murphy."
A Friday meeting called by the Board of Elections and Registration to hear an election challenge against Murphy was canceled after Murphy's letter was received.
Murphy, who lives in Commission District 3, qualified to run for District 4 Commissioner on Friday, April 30. In the days following the qualifying period, he argued that state law says candidates "have to live in the county for 24 consecutive months, but ... don't have to live in the district until you are sworn into the position."
District 4 Commissioner Michael Edmondson, who is running for re-election, is a resident of Lake Spivey.
On Friday, Frey said that state law and "Supreme Court precedent" countered Murphy's original argument. He said that Georgia Code Section 21-2-153(e) states that a candidate must be "an elector of the county of his or her residence eligible to vote in the primary election in which he or she is a candidate for nomination."
"He [Murphy] never expressed anything contrary to wanting to run," Frey said. "We researched the law and found that the law was contrary to our position. The law does not allow him to run for that seat and live where he does. He has to be eligible to vote for the particular seat he seeks."
Murphy said his decision to pull out of the race was a "heartbreaking" and "emotional" experience.
"I had several lawyers that were advising me that it was legal," Murphy said. "It was heartbreaking to me, because we ran the whole campaign on good faith. Sometimes, you get advice that might not be as thorough as it should be. I'm not passing the blame. It was nobody's decision [to run], but mine."
Murphy said he believes some members of the Board of Commissioners have recently lacked compassion toward citizens, particularly in regard to the closure of the C-TRAN bus service and the county's public comment policy. He said he hopes the commissioners will view his brief candidacy "as a wake-up call that there is a lot of movement out there wanting them to be accountable for the decisions they make."
"They need to put some compassion back into government and get off of these personal agendas," Murphy said. "It's ridiculous when people get up there to ask a question and all they hear is, 'The clock is running.'
"I'm not mad ... I just think that there are a lot of things they could do to improve things, if they just took the time."
With Murphy out of the race, Edmondson's opponents in the July 20 Democratic primary will be Calvary Refuge Center Client Assistant Dabouze Antoine and former Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott.
Jewel Scott's husband, Lee Scott, will run against the winner of the primary as a Republican in the Nov. 2 general election.
Murphy said he will refocus his energy on the City of Lovejoy. "I'm going to be the mayor of Lovejoy and just handle the day-to-day things down here," he said. "I was looking forward to making a difference, but I'm still going to work with the commissioners and try to make this the best place I can for the people that matter."