Runoff will decide already contentious DeKalb County commission race



The race for DeKalb County Commission District 2 has already been ... eventful. And it isn’t over yet.

Last month’s Democratic primary saw technical and human errors that fueled plenty of confusion and produced erroneous preliminary results, triggering a hand recount that turned the initially reported outcome on its head.

The candidate who believed he was leading the race was actually in third place, and he later asked the GBI to investigate — an invitation it formally declined this week.

Now there’s a runoff.

Michelle Long Spears and Lauren Alexander — who finished first and second, respectively, in the primary — are currently vying for votes ahead of a Tuesday election that will determine who becomes the next county commissioner for an area that covers parts of Decatur, Brookhaven and Atlanta.

And even in a contest between two political newcomers, there’s plenty of intrigue.

Spears, the founder of a “social impact consulting firm” that works with nonprofits, is the chosen candidate of outgoing District 2 Commissioner Jeff Rader and colleague Ted Terry. If elected, she said, her focuses would include protecting and preserving neighborhoods, ensuring quality service delivery and infrastructure and advocating for responsible growth.

She told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she’d like to create a “women’s commission” to tackle disparities in things like health care and employment.

Spears’ campaign has also had missteps.

In an early candidate forum, Spears, who is white, repeatedly referred to 2020′s protests against police violence and white supremacy as “racial uprisings.” The comments drew condemnation from the chairman of the local Democratic Party, among others.

Spears said this week she is “incredibly sorry for the messiness of my comments” and recognized that they “lacked the sprit of empathy that’s required to be an ally in this moment.” She said she supports the Black Lives Matter movement and holding officers accused of wrongdoing accountable, and pointed out that her company for years worked with the Partnership for Southern Equity.

She claimed she meant to say “racial equity uprisings” during the forum.

Alexander, a management consultant who currently works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s birth defects division, said the comments raise concerns for someone seeking to represent a county that’s nearly 55% Black.

“I just would hope that our elected officials can truly advocate for everybody,” Alexander said. “Framing the protests as racial uprisings, it doesn’t seem like that’s so.”

Alexander, who is Black, said she has always had a heart for community service but decided to take things a step further because “when the Trump administration got into office, I was very concerned that the things that I held near and dear...would possibly not be here if I didn’t shift my money and my energy into politics.”

The Decatur resident has touted the support of Elizabeth Wilson, the city’s first Black mayor and a local legend, and recently gained the endorsement of former opponent Marshall Orson.

Alexander has campaigned on protecting voting and abortion rights, though she admits there’s likely only so much a county commissioner can do about the latter. Her platform also includes improving infrastructure, tackling housing issues and creating “real changes” with ethics and transparency within DeKalb’s local government.

She said another messy issue with Spears raises questions about her opponents’ ability to do the same — even though she is a former alternate member of the DeKalb County ethics board.

During last month’s primary, Spears had the endorsement of DeKalb Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson. But Cochran-Johnson said this week she later told Spears she wouldn’t be backing her during the runoff, citing “a variety of personal reasons.”

The commissioner said she asked that her likeness not be used in campaign literature or robocalls for Spears’ campaign. A resident later reached out to tell Cochran-Johnson she’d been referenced in a June 11 robocall.

Spears later said that robocall had been previously scheduled and apologized that it wasn’t caught before it went out.

Friday is the last day for advance in-person voting for Tuesday’s runoff; a list of DeKalb’s early voting locations can be found here.

The District 2 race is a Democratic party primary but, with no Republicans on November’s general election ballot, the winner will become DeKalb’s newest commissioner-elect.