February 28, 2017 4:00 PM
UPDATE:: Bernie Tokarz contacted me to say: “I am not running for Fulton County Chair.” So he’s out.
SECOND UPDATE:: An alert reader has pointed out that the last Republican to sit in the Chairman’s chair was Karen Handel, who took a whopping 58% of the vote in a 4-way race in a special election to replace Mike Kenn in 2003. (I looked it up. The reader is right.)
For an off year that’s supposed to be boring, 2017 is looking to become very interesting politically for Fulton County. In addition to the 18-candidate special election for the 6th Congressional District on the north end of the county, there’s an upcoming special election to fill a vacancy on the Roswell City Council; Roswell Mayor Jere Wood may finally be term-limited; Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle is said to be considering a state office; there are 70-some people seeking positions with the City of South Fulton and County Chairman John Eaves decision to run for Mayor of Atlanta will create an open seat and possibly a chance at Republican majority on the Fulton Board.
Robb Pitts is already running for Chairman, and Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr., may be considering it as well. Union City Mayor Vince Williams can’t be ruled out. By rights, it’s a Democrat’s seat and the odds of a Republican winning a countywide office are extremely long during regularly scheduled elections. Three Republicans on the commission (Bob Ellis, Liz Hausman and Lee Morris) all hail from points north of Wieuca Road, and the County hasn’t voted for a Republican President since Nixon visited China. But a special election could throw all those rules into a cocked hat.
For reasons beyond the scope of political science, Democrats don’t vote in runoffs or special elections with the same enthusiasm as Republicans. Democrats, especially African American Democrats, show up if they’re interested, but Republicans vote like it’s a patriotic duty.
You hear that turnout matters, and here’s an example of why: Turnout in the Atlanta Mayor’s race among black voters in November 2009 was around 27%, more than 10% lower than white voter turnout. (That black-to-white ratio stayed roughly the same for the squeaky-close runoff.) But even though the percentage of black turnout was lower, the raw number of black voters was sufficient. Fulton County is today about 5% whiter than it was 8 years ago, a statistic that accretes a slight advantage to Republicans.
Names being bandied as possible Republican candidates for Chairman include
former candidate and transportation activist Bernie Tokarz, current Atlanta City Council candidate Cory Ruth, and strongest of, Sandy Springs City Councilman Gabriel Sterling. The Fulton County Republican party is likely to adopt a ‘Highlander’ plan, where there can be only one –though county parties are notoriously weak at enforcing such ukases.
But a single Republican choice among a field that will undoubtedly offer more than one Democrat –and thereby spilt the traditional black bloc of Democrat votes- could offer Fulton Republicans a chance to steal a chair.