February 16, 2016 10:44 AM
Michael Thurmond will make it official later this week: he’s running for DeKalb CEO.
The continued existence of a CEO position in DeKalb — unique in Georgia county governance — is an open question with legislation pending to end the position in favor of a commission chairman system. And the job itself looks like a horrorshow, given the governance and reputation problems anyone serving will face.
Lee May, who is still serving as interim CEO two-and-a-half years into a term because Burrell Ellis still hasn’t exhausted his legal challenges to his corruption conviction, announced last month that he would not run, clearing the decks.
Thurmond had been deflecting speculation for months, telling people that he intended to work for the Clinton campaign to see where that led. He’s currently working as that one black guy for Butler Wooten Cheeley & Peak LLP, a plaintiffs’ law firm specializing in trucking, products liability, auto defects and class action cases.
But the former labor commissioner has a well-earned reputation as a political turnaround artist, first with the Department of Family and Children Services, and then with the DeKalb County school system following its near-disaccreditation. Thurmond had a substantial lead over other potential CEO candidates in an HEG/Apache poll conducted in December, which may have influenced his decision.
The CEO campaign is a partisan race, and in DeKalb that means the winner of the Democratic primary almost certainly wins the job. DeKalb offers three paths to victory: Be the candidate of choice of predominantly African-American (and 95-percent Democrat) South DeKalb — that’s Vernon Jones’ in 2000 — be the overwhelming candidate of relatively affluent (and multiracial) North DeKalb Democrats, relying on high local turnout while winning enough in South DeKalb to take the primary — that’s Burrell Ellis in 2008, or be a consensus candidate countywide — that’s Sheriff Jeff Mann in 2014.
Everyone will claim to run like Mann. We’ll see how long that holds up.
Still, Thurmond can expect to be the big money candidate, barring some unforseen entrant. Connie Stokes, a former state senator and DeKalb superdistrict commissioner, announced her intent to run last month. Calvin Sims, a perennial candidate, also intends to run. But former DeKalb Sheriff Thomas Brown will likely pass on a run now, and other high-profile potential candidates — State Rep. Karla Drenner, DeKalb Commissioner Jeff Rader and (reason save us) former CEO Vernon Jones — may re-evaluate their options in the face of a strong challenge.