Two of the positions at the forefront of Fulton County’s justice system – district attorney and sheriff – are heading to Aug. 11 runoffs following the June 9 primary election.
Critics have blamed problems with the county's repeat offender and jail issues, respectively, on the two seats, shining an even brighter spotlight on those campaigns.
With 100% of precincts reporting, according to both the secretary of state’s and Fulton County’s websites, all races are decided unless a recount is requested, granted and changes the outcome.
In the sheriff’s race, incumbent Ted Jackson (44.12%) and Pat Labat (23.17%) are bound for a Democratic runoff after leading a field that also included Myron Freeman (17.64%), Walter Calloway (9.13%) and Charles Rambo (5.95%), with the winner unopposed in November.
Jackson thanked everyone who voted in the election.
“It feels like déjà vu. In the four races for sheriff that I have been involved in, three have resulted in runoffs because of the number of people running,” he said. “I have total confidence that the voters of Fulton County will make the choice they believe to be the best candidate for the job.”
Of the runoff, Jackson said, “This is a critical election for the most qualified candidate to address COVID-19 presently and in the future for the inmates and workers. Additionally, the candidate will have to address the initiatives concerning re-entry through grants that were awarded from the United States Department of Justice and Health and Human Service to the Fulton County Jail to be used as models for other jails in the United States and Europe.
“The efforts to address the unrest in the city of Atlanta and potentially the county in partnership with our law enforcement associates is and will be an extreme challenge. We need continued experience and leadership to address these issues in the future. We will need a strong turnout of voters during early voting or on August 11th and we need to Keep Moving Ahead with Ted.”
Labat said he was “excited about the record turnout in Fulton County” that helped him advance to the runoff and thanked all the voters for casting ballots both for him and others.
“What started as an uphill battle was made even tougher by the challenges that COVID-19 presented to both to campaigning and the elections process,” he said. “I’m hoping the kinks will be worked out for the August runoff and the November general election.”
When asked what the key to victory would be in the runoff, Labat said, “Voter turnout will be critical. Elections are decided by those who show up to vote. It’s just that simple. Continuing to reach out to voters to discuss their concerns and my vision for the sheriff’s office will be key. We’ve had a lot of momentum thus far and will keep our foot on the gas.”
In the district attorney campaign, Fani Willis (42.27%) and incumbent Paul Howard Jr. (34.78%) are headed to the runoff after outpacing Christian Wise Smith (22.95%), with the winner unopposed in November.
Willis is trying to unseat Howard, who has held the post since 1997 but has been dogged by an investigation by the state ethics commission for 12 possible violations for not reporting on his campaign disclosure reports the extra pay he has received from the city of Atlanta since 2015 through the nonprofit People Partnering for Progress. Also, Howard has been sued by former employee Cathy Carter for sexual harassment.
“The key (to winning the runoff) will be getting our message out and people understanding what is at stake,” Howard said. “We did not direct much of our attention or resources towards Ms. Willis in the primary.”
In a statement, Howard thanked everyone who voted in the primary.
“I look forward to earning each and every vote as we continue the campaign. Unfortunately, Fulton County and Atlanta have now for the time in our histories joined several urban cities that are seeing police unions taking major roles in the outcome of local political races. The Atlanta Police Union has endorsed and is funding my opponent along with Republican Mary Norwood. Even though violent crime is down by 70% in Atlanta, Mary Norwood and the police union are not satisfied because I have followed my oath as an independent district attorney who prosecutes police officers when citizens are killed without justification. Take the example of Los Angeles, where from 2000 to 2018, police killed 1,500 citizens. Not one police officer was prosecuted by the current DA or her predecessor during this period. Both district attorneys were endorsed by the Los Angeles Police Union. In the 2020 district attorney’s election the union has already donated over $2.2 million to the incumbent.
“In California several current district attorneys have asked the state to bar police unions from making such donations to district attorneys because of the obvious conflict created when union members are suspected of crimes. I agree.
“Likewise, I do not believe that Republicans like Mary Norwood should interfere with or attempt to influence a Democratic primary. Democratic candidates should not take the donations, particularly, when this interference is taken to support police misconduct. I believe this attempt to influence the district attorney’s race represents an extreme union and Republican position, inconsistent with the views of most of the honest, hardworking police officers and citizens of our county. "
An email message left with Willis seeking comment on the election was not immediately returned.
But sheriff and district attorney were just two of several contested races in the Fulton government elections, where incumbents won all but two of the campaigns.
There were six contested judicial races, which were nonpartisan. In the Fulton Superior Court elections, incumbent Rachelle Carnesale edged Tiffany Sellers with 53.32%, Shermela Williams nipped incumbent Rebecca Rieder with 52.50% and Tamika Hrobowski-Houston (33.47%) and Melynee Leftridge Harris (32.30%) are in a runoff after beating Ashley Baker Osby (20.22%) and Lizz Kuhn (14.01%) in the battle to replace Constance Russell, who is not seeking reelection.
In the Fulton Probate Court judge campaign, Kenya Johnson won with 59.24% against Diane Weinberg (21.91%) and Tim Curtin (18.84%) in the fight for the seat being vacated by retiring Judge Pinkie Toomer. In the Georgia Supreme Court races also on the Fulton ballot, incumbent Charlie Bethel beat Beth Beskin with 52.22%, and incumbent Sarah Warren whipped Hal Moroz with 78.74%.
There were two contested Fulton Board of Education races, which are nonpartisan. In District 3, incumbent member Gail Dean dominated with 67.49% against Jimmy Glenn. A runoff is ahead in District 4, where Franchesca Warren (37.35%) and Sandra Wright (35.34%) are neck and neck against Willie Davis Jr. (27.31%) in the battle to replace member Linda Bryant, who is not seeking reelection.
Warren said being the top vote-getter and advancing to the runoff are “important because it shows parents in south Fulton have a voice and are ready to see a change in the schools.”
“Because I’m an educator, they trust that I will bring about those changes,” she added. “As we progressed in the election, it was clear parents were searching for something new and something to help mobilize innovation in the district. As a mom who has three kids in the system, parents tell me it’s critical they have someone like them running in the race.”
Warren said the key to victory in the runoff will be “making sure the same parents come out and cast their vote and also (reaching voters) who didn’t know who was running and just picked a name and not knowing what my message is. Not only am I a parent in the district, but I’m also an engaged advocate for our schools through the community group South Fulton Parents for Education.”
An email sent to Wright seeking comment on the election was not immediately returned.
There were two opposed Fulton Board of Commissioners elections. In the District 4 Democratic campaign, incumbent Natalie Hall defeated Kathryn Flowers with 59.37% for the right to face Republican Barbara Gresham in November. Khadijah Abdur-Rahman edged incumbent Joe Carn with 56.67% in the District 6 Democratic race, and she will be unopposed in November.
All other candidates were unopposed.