Clayton County Chief Deputy Garland Watkins filed notice Tuesday he will run as a write-in candidate against former Sheriff Victor Hill, who defeated the incumbent and Watkins’ boss.
With Hill’s win in last month’s Democratic primary runoff, he was on track to retake the office in January.
But Watkins said Tuesday he is running because he was asked to by those who want another choice on the November ballot.
“It’s just to give people a second choice and let them know they do have options,” Watkins said.
This is his second run for the office. Watkins came in third in the 2008 Democratic primary, pushing Hill and current Sheriff Kem Kimbrough into a runoff.
By Tuesday afternoon, Watkins had done what the law requires of write-in candidates. He placed a legal ad in the local newspaper, announcing his intentions, and he filed notice with election officials.
Still, Hill’s will be the only name on the ballot for Clayton County sheriff in November since there is no Republican candidate; Watkins’ supporters will have to mark “write-in candidate” on the ballot and then type in his name.
“It will be a monumental feat, but the beautiful thing is people know me,” Watkins said. “Anything is possible.”
Hill took 54 percent of the vote in last month’s runoff with Kimbrough despite the 37 felony charges pending against him.
“I received so many phone calls from people upset with how the election turned out and the [legal] problems Victor Hill has,” Watkins said. “I don’t know of any other agency that has to look to going forward with their potential leader with a 37-count indictment over his head.”
Hill goes on trial Nov. 26 on charges of racketeering, theft, giving a false statement and trying to influence a witness. Prosecutors say he used campaign funds, the county’s credit card and cars and government employees to enrich himself.
Hill could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but he has said many times that he is not guilty and the criminal case was brought only to keep him from retaking the office he lost four years ago to Kimbrough. Hill is eligible to take office only if he is not convicted on any of the counts.
Now 50, Watkins joined the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office when he was 24 and worked there until Hill fired him and 26 others in 2005 and had them escorted from the building, where snipers were posted. A federal judge eventually ordered the 27 reinstated. But to avoid any retaliation, Watkins joined the Clayton County Police Department. Kimbrough asked Watkins to come back as his second in command when he took office in 2009.
Watkins said the county is trying to recover from its years-old reputation due to a dysfunctional school board that cost the school system’s accreditation and Hill’s fighting with the county commissioners and trying to undermine local police departments. (The school system later regained its accreditation.)
“I never would have thought in my 26 years [with the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office], I would see Clayton County referred to in such negative light,” Watkins said. “I’m sick and tired of the mudslinging.”