Photo by Curt Yeomans
State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale) announced her plans to run for Clayton County commission chairman, on Monday, at her campaign headquarters, in Rex.
A second high-profile figure in Clayton County has announced plans to unseat County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell later this year.
State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale) said, Monday, she plans to run against Bell, who is seeking re-election this year, on a campaign that focuses on mass transit, senior citizen assistance, and job assistance for young people.
Former Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner announced last year that he also will run against Bell.
Abdul-Salaam has served in the State House of Representatives since 2005, and is the sitting chairperson of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation. She said she has been planning to run against Bell since the county commission voted to shut down the C-Tran bus service in 2009.
“We need somebody in the position that will not only care about their [county residents’] needs, but will fight for them, and I think the community knows I will fight for them,” Abdul-Salaam said.
With Abdul-Salaam’s announcement, the commission chairman’s race has become a three-person fight among people with high degrees of name recognition — and significant groups of supporters — in the community. Approximately 60 people came to the legislator’s campaign headquarters, in Rex, to hear her announcement on Monday.
Her supporters cheered her, called her “Mama,” and began loudly chanting for her. “Roberta’s in the house,” the supporters chanted repeatedly. “A change is coming!” At another point, they began chanting her official campaign slogan, “Rolling with Roberta,” to the tune of Ike and Tina Turner’s version of the song, “Proud Mary.”
Abdul-Salaam has been an advocate for mass transit in Clayton County for several years. She said she worked with senior citizens to fight fare increases on the county’s paratransit service in 2008, and she was a visible advocate for keeping C-Tran, in 2009 and 2010. She also got legislation passed in 2010 that allowed the county commission to call for a binding referendum on joining MARTA.
The commission did not issue that call, however, and a non-binding referendum was, instead, held in November 2010. Sixty-seven percent of Clayton County voters voted in favor of joining MARTA. The legislator accused the county’s commissioners of not doing anything to act on the results, however.
“I did everything I could do under the ‘Gold Dome’ [the state Capitol] to make that difference, and to bring about that change,” Abdul-Salaam told supporters. “But, it’s really heartbreaking when somebody else can sit in a seat, pretend like they are supporting you, and they don’t ever put the matter on the agenda [for discussion by the commission].”
But, the state representative said senior citizens have also been treated badly by the commission, citing the board’s late 2010 decision to significantly increase membership fees for the county’s senior centers. The fees for out-of-county residents went from $10 a year, to $180 per year, while fees for county residents went from $1 a year, to $1 per month.
The decision to increase the fees led to months of senior citizens pleading during commission meetings for the fees to be lowered. Abdul-Salaam said seniors came to her as well, asking for her assistance.
“These are supposed to be amenities provided to us, as tax-paying citizens, and now, we’re actually having to pay double what we would normally pay,” the legislator said.
She said it was a “very hard decision” to leave the legislature, but she listed several “basic needs” of the county that she said are not being adequately addressed by the commission. Those needs-related issues include a lack of street lights and sidewalks, “blight in the community,” abandoned houses, and a lack of a jobs programs that can help high school dropouts find employment.
“We need leadership that will, at least, try to pull the components of the county together,” she said. “There’s a difference between talking about something, and doing something about it.”
Bell declined to specifically address Abdul-Salaam’s announcement to run against him. He did say, however, that he will continue to push for improvements in the county. “I intend to stay, as I have always been, on the right side of the issues for transportation, for economic development, and for our seniors,” he said. “I plan to run a significant race on behalf of the people of Clayton County.”
Turner, who has pledged to bring a new, progressive vision to county government, said he is eager to face the additional opposition in the chairman’s race. “I’ve always respected Roberta, and I look forward to running against her in the chairman’s race,” he said.