By the time the first pitch is hurled from the mound of SunTrust Park stadium next spring, the man who lured the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County will be out of office.
Incumbent Chairman Tim Lee lost his reelection bid Tuesday to challenger Mike Boyce, a retired marine colonel, in a runoff seen by many as a litmus test for support of the deal to bring the Atlanta Braves to Cobb.
Boyce beat Lee, winning 64 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting.
Shortly before 10 p.m. Lee announced to supporters that his deficit at the polls could not be overcome and he had called Mike Boyce to congratulate him.
“I told him we, we would work with him to keep this county going strong,” Lee said, fighting back tears.
The mood on the top floor of The Strand Theater in Marietta, where Lee hosted a viewing party, was resigned. There was much grumbling about the “Trump effect” that propelled the brash businessman to the top of the Republican presidential ticket at the expense of establishment politicians. Many seemed to attribute Lee’s defeat to a general hostility toward incumbents.
“It is what it is,” said Shawn Carlay, a healthcare administrator from West Cobb. “People want change.”
Lee said he had no regrets.
“I think voters are expressing a dissatisfaction with what they believe to be true,” Lee said. He called the Braves deal possibly “the most beneficial economic project for decades to come” for Cobb.
Lee said he was confident he did the right thing for the county, even if it made him unpopular.
Boyce ran a grueling grassroots campaign, reaching over 100,000 voters by phone or at their doorstep.
“Cobb County is a very conservative county and people simply want the respect shown to them that if you’re going to use their money, you have to ask them,” Boyce said.
He added that he would work to make SunTrust Park and the surrounding development a success, but warned he would be taking close look at the agreement between the team and the county.
Ironically, some of the same voters who voted against Lee said they were in favor of the Braves’ move to Cobb, but objected to the way the deal was negotiated in secret and committed some $400 million in public money to build and maintain a new stadium without a popular referendum.
Matt Booth, who works for a real estate research firm and lives within two miles of the new ballpark, said he would have voted for the stadium deal if given a chance.
“Lee likes to spend our tax dollars without asking us … so he doesn’t get my vote,” Booth said. “I’ve seen [Boyce] speak and he’s got his finger on the pulse of what the people of Cobb County really want.”
Regina Nasrallah, a rising college freshman from Marietta, also said she voted for Boyce because of Lee’s handling of the Braves deal.
“It is going to add to commerce in that area but it’s also going to bring a ton of traffic,” she said.
Alan Downey, who works in sales and has lived in Cobb for 49 years, said he voted for Boyce because he wants new blood in the county government.
“He’s been in power too long,” Downey said of Lee.
“A lot of it has to do with the amount of Cobb tax dollars he took to pay for Braves stuff,” Downey said. “He should have asked.”
Lee supporters said they were pleased with the direction of Cobb’s development.
Michael Bell, a contractor and Cobb County resident of 17 years, said he voted for Tim Lee because he’s pleased with the chairman’s leadership.
“You’ve got some people that want things to stay the same and some people who want the county to grow and aren’t afraid of change,” Bell said. “If the county is not growing, it’s not producing jobs and it’s not giving people the opportunity to stay.”
With no Democrat in the race, Boyce should face no opposition in the November election.