In the coming Age of Trump, local politics will matter more than ever.
It’s been a couple of weeks since the DeKalb county commission race ended for me, and I’ve had some time to process what happened and where to go from here. Gregory Adams, a police officer will face Randal Mangham, an attorney and former state representative, in a December 6 runoff.
I’ve spoken at length with both. I believe Adams is the better choice for the job, given what we’re facing today.
I’m encouraged by Adams understanding of the nuances of the public argument about police misconduct and policing issues in DeKalb County today.
The force has been bleeding talent for years to affluent cities like Sandy Springs and is understaffed by at least 300 positions. DeKalb’s police have been politicized to some degree. And they’re often substituting in a role better served by our crumbling social services infrastructure – cops as social workers. Crime deters growth.
Pay is driving away good officers, but so is a sense that there’s a leadership vacuum. Right now, no one on the commission has law enforcement experience. Adams is best positioned to advocate for both the big and the granular changes to solve policing problems. Adams supports body cameras and external review of use-of-force, and is deeply concerned about the role of mental health response in policing. He also supports a raise in salaries. He’s going to be able to make credible arguments to his peers on the commission about the need for change here, arguments that will also be credible to officers in the field.
Adams has also been involved in homelessness services. He’s a former board member of Project3Sixty, a shelter and rehabilitation nonprofit based in Lawrenceville. I think Adams has better experience here. Modern policing has to break the connection between homelessness, mental illness, substance dependency and prison. I’m hoping to work with Adams and the county, however I can, to tackle this problem.
I’m also assured that he’ll address some of the quality of life community issues I encountered over the course of the campaign – drainage issues on Rockbridge Road, construction delays at the new animal shelter, extending the moratorium on shutting off water until the billing mess has a plan, reviewing the proposed club district on Memorial Drive and the like.
Adams plainly benefited from the power of ballot placement and the fact that he shares the same name as a long-serving superior court judge in DeKalb County. Sometimes we get lucky. That said, this is going to be bloody confusing for anyone writing about this place for a while.
“But … but … Larry Johnson is supporting him! He’ll vote with the South DeKalb guys all the time!”
To a degree, it doesn’t matter. Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton is being replaced by Steve Bradshaw. For truly stupid self-serving things like the stadium deal, they just won’t have the votes. I think Johnson’s been really, really wrong at times, but I’m not convinced he’s actually corrupt, and the distinction is important.
I also have reason to believe Adams will be less susceptible to political pressure than Mangham. Adams was plainly willing to take on the establishment. He ran against the incumbent commissioner Stan Watson for this very seat two years ago, and Watson was a principal author of the county’s litany of political abuses. Adams’ act of political courage should have been recognized in the moment.
Mangham has a strong relationship with the immigrant community, something that could prove valuable to the county if he wins this race. He appears focused on infrastructure issues. He spoke at length on the campaign trail about empowering black-owned businesses and drawing more money from the federal government to help the county.
I question how well that might work in a Republican federal administration, of course. I expect massive cuts to anything related to spending in urban America, all double-talk aside.
Mangham’s conduct as a candidate also raises questions.
Mangham spent at least $40,000 on yard signs and other displays, after lending his campaign $80,000 over the last month of the campaign. Mangham lent his campaign more money than the next five candidates combined raised from private sources.
I note in passing that my contributions were larger than Adams or Mangham reported. But there is no way I would go $80,000 in debt to win an election. It says something dark about the nature of electoral politics at the local level — that money matters more than message. It also raises questions about the kind of fundraising Mangham might have to engage in as a commissioner to pay back that debt.
Mangham is probably a better campaigner than Adams. He has more political experience. But he’s willing to do things — the massive code violations his signage represented being the least of it — that I find troubling.
Creative Loafing’s website has a story about a $600,000 judgment a legal client obtained against Mangham for legal malpractice. I didn’t bring it up during the campaign. I didn’t have to — it was often the first thing who knew anything about the race said to me. It’s been at the top of Internet search results for a long time. Mangham accused me of having something to do with that after we talked, because “I used to work there,” or something, which is hilarious and absurd.
Mangham has been telling people that the issue was dismissed in court. This is only true to the point that Mangham filed an appeal, which he himself dismissed without resolution before the court.
He also told Jennifer Ffrench-Parker at DeKalb Crossroads that he never had a $5000 ethics fine for failing to file campaign disclosures over a period of years. This was untrue.
“After the newspaper published an Oct. 29 story quoting him at the forum, Mangham and his campaign staff called numerous times and sent several emails demanding ‘immediate retraction’ of the story. Richard Stephen, his campaign manager, called the article ‘false and very misleading.’
‘The paper treats this as a fact and not as a question,’ he wrote in a Nov. 3 email. ‘It is this misrepresentation of the facts that we wish to have you retract in the next publishing.’
Mangham called again on Nov. 16.
On Nov. 21, when CrossRoadsNews presented him with a copy of his Consent Agreement obtained in an Open Records Request from the State Ethics Commission, Mangham said ‘clearly there was a consent order.’
‘That was in error when I said there were no fines,’ he said.”
(A side note. There are three journalists in this town you do not screw with – other than me – unless you have the nut flush: Dan Whisenhunt at Decaturish, Trey Benton at the Brookhaven Post and Parker at Crossroads. Just don’t. Blood is precious. It belongs in your body, not on the pavement.)
But Mangham’s vote to ban gay marriage – and how he’s talking about that today – ends the discussion for me.
In 2004, Mangham was one of three black Democrats to turn against his party and vote in favor of placing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the ballot. The measure passed 122-58, with a two-thirds majority required.
The New York Times quoted Mangham as saying “I don’t appreciate having to explain to my 9-year-old why two big husky guys are kissing … God discriminates against the act, but he loves the person. I will continue to protect people who live that lifestyle.”
The AJC also quoted Mangham saying “God hates the sin of homosexuality.”
Mangham now denies ever having said this.
I presented Mangham’s denial to Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times, the author of the 2004 piece. “It’s silly to think I would have made that up,” he replied. “And if so, why didn’t he object at the time?”
State Rep. Karla Drenner, who was present at the time and is writing a book about politics, says it’s in the official transcripts of the session, as is worse.
I find that vote to be both a moral failure and a failure of political courage, and one he has done nothing material I can find to apologize for or rectify.
People were barred from seeing loved ones dying in hospitals because of this vote. They were thrown out of their homes because of the way family inheritance laws work. They were denied marriage benefits on pensions. They were denied adoptions. Rather than provide leadership on this issue, Mangham caved in to pressure from religious groups.
Aside from the grave moral error of it, he also screwed his party, and the state in my opinion.
Conservative turnout exploded when gay marriage amendment was on the ballot. Democrats lost 25 seats. Georgia, today, probably would not be looking at a 120-to-60 vote Republican supermajority had that vote not passed. Democrats across the state became legislatively irrelevant overnight.
We owe some measure of the legislative overreach we’ve been fighting for the last 10 years to Mangham. Photo ID laws for voting, the blockade on the Affordable Care Act, the constitutional amendment permanently barring income tax increases on wealthy residents, roads falling apart because the state won’t raise the money to fix them, the focus on charter schools instead of fixing the funding formula for public schools … Democrats lost 25 seats in 2004, and it led to this.
Mangham, of course, kept his seat.
So, I lost to these guys, badly. I got smoked like a sausage. I accept that, and tip my cap to all who ran. The skills of governing generally have little to do with winning elections. Politics is perverse. My interest is in seeing good governance come through now.
With the bit about the ethics violations and the dismissal of the legal malpractice lawsuit, and denying his hurtful words during the gay marriage fight, the idea that he can claim today that he never said things he plainly said or never did things he plainly did fits a pattern. He appears comfortable saying things that aren’t true out of political expediency. And he’s writing big, big checks to buy an election over an underfunded candidate.
The commission itself is about to have a major restart after years of dysfunction. Over the last two years, four new commissioners will have taken office. With the election of Michael Thurmond, I’m encouraged that the worst is behind us.
But we are entering a dangerous moment in American politics. There will be pressure on local governments to turn a blind eye to abuses against political outgroups. Resistance is a local affair. We need political courage. Adams has demonstrated more of that than Mangham. Let’s hope he wins.