Partisan politics enter Tucker mayoral race. Who does it help?

Municipal races are nonpartisan, but political affiliation has become a talking point in Tucker this election cycle
Frank Auman (left), Robin Biro (right)

Credit: Frank Auman / Robin Biro

Credit: Frank Auman / Robin Biro

Frank Auman (left), Robin Biro (right)

The race for mayor in one of metro Atlanta’s youngest cities is beginning to take on the tone of a statewide or federal race.

Tucker’s mayoral candidates are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. The incumbent, Frank Auman, is the former chairman of the DeKalb GOP, while his challenger, Robin Biro, was a field director for Democratic President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Residents have favored Democratic candidates since Tucker was chartered in 2016, but those political leanings haven’t carried over to local races. This November, DeKalb County’s Democratic party is trying to see if it can elect more openly liberal candidates in Tucker, starting with the mayor’s seat.

“Tucker is becoming more blue. It’s becoming more more progressive,” Biro said. “And frankly the best that the Republicans can do right now is to hide the fact that they’re Republicans.”

Neither candidate will have an “R” or a “D” by their names on local ballots, but the mayor’s race will test whether political affiliation is a deal breaker for Tucker residents. Auman said political party should not be a primary factor when supporting local politicians, adding that the focus on partisanship is a risky bet to capitalize on DeKalb’s status as one of Georgia’s bluest counties.

“They’ve concluded that’s the winning strategy,” Auman said. “I think it’s a bad strategy because it’s bad for Tucker.”

Policy disagreements

Auman, a business owner, beat out two opponents in 2016 with roughly 70% of the vote to become Tucker’s founding mayor. He ran unopposed the next year to begin his first four-year term.

He said he’s proud of how Tucker has quickly set itself up and taken on several in-house services while remaining financially stable under his leadership.

Biro said Auman has done some important things for the city, but he said a few controversial policy decisions led him to enter the race. Specifically, he cited the city’s failure to adopt a nondiscrimination ordinance as a breaking point.

Tucker has considered adopting legislation that would outlaw discrimination by local businesses on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or other factors. Biro, a businessman who says he was the first openly gay U.S. Army Ranger, said he’d bring the policy to the City Council for a vote within his first 60 days in office if elected.

“It became obvious to me that the only people who would find an NDO divisive were people who were seeking legal shelter to discriminate against others,” Biro said, “and that does not stand with me.”

Auman has repeatedly said he has reservations about the legislation. He said he understands why some people want this type of a policy in place, but he’s not sure the ordinance, as it was proposed, is the solution.

“There’s just no consensus in Tucker with it,” he said. “(It’s unclear) if it’s something we can involve ourselves in, and if we do, it’s a divisive thing that’s going to generate litigation immediately.”

A ‘centerpiece’ campaign for Democrats

John Jackson, chairman of DeKalb Democrats, said Tucker and north DeKalb have changed a lot over the past five years.

Jackson said the nondiscrimination ordinance and Auman’s refusal to issue a mask mandate made his seat vulnerable. Biro openly admits that he was recruited to run against Auman by DeKalb Democratic leaders, including Jackson.

“The Democratic Party of Georgia is targeting this race,” Jackson said. “... I would say this is our centerpiece (election).”

In state and federal elections, Tucker has slowly moved to the left since its incorporation. In the 2016 Presidential election, Republican Donald Trump received about 35% of the city’s votes, and that shrank to 29.4% in 2020. More than 70% of Tucker voters chose Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock during this year’s senate runoffs.

Voting trends in Tucker area 2016-2021

Credit: AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: AJC

*Chart note: The data shown for the 2021 Senate Runoffs is an average of the percentage of votes received by both Democratic and Republican candidates. Also, the data consists of results from 11 precincts within Tucker. For the most part, those precincts and Tucker’s city limits are the same, but there are a few small exceptions. Tap or click to show larger image

Marci McCarthy, the DeKalb GOP chairman, said the partisan opposition to Auman’s reelection bid shows how much the nationwide political divide has seeped into every level of government. She expects the effort to backfire.

“It’s really the Democrats that are stirring the pot as it relates to the party lines... But what I’m hearing is that it’s not really going over very well,” she said. “It’s actually being perceived as very divisive.”

Biro said the emphasis on partisanship is for the sake of informing residents — not about solely trying to recruit party-line voters. He argues his politics makes him more representative of Tucker’s interests.

Auman’s pitch to voters is reelect him if they’re happy with the direction Tucker has been going, not with whether they share the same political party.

“If you’re happy with the success Tucker has seen, call it what you want, but let’s keep it going,” Auman said.

Early voting begins Oct. 12, and election day is Nov. 2. In addition to the mayor’s race, Tucker residents will vote to fill four City Council seats.

Frank Auman’s campaign platform

• Consider bringing stormwater services in-house

• Keep maintaining a balanced, conservative budget

• Focus on redevelopment near Northlake Mall

• Prioritize pandemic relief funds for broadband internet access and stormwater improvements

• Continue to partner with DeKalb County police

• Oppose mask mandates, coronavirus-related lockdown orders

Robin Biro’s campaign platform

• Pass a nondiscrimination ordinance

• Attract the film industry to set up permanent establishments in the city

• Encourage light industrial developments to increase corporate tax revenue

• Implement developer impact fees and increase watershed fees to shore up budget

• Set up neighborhood watches to supplement police

• Will enact mask mandate if Tucker becomes a COVID-19 hotspot