Cobb County Commission to be majority Democrat, women of color

ajc.com

The blue wave has finally come for Cobb County’s local government.

Democrats have won a majority on the Board of Commissioners, which will be governed solely by women, more than half of whom are Black.

Jerica Richardson, a 31-year-old Georgia Tech grad who works for Equifax, won the East Cobb District 2 commission race by just over a thousand votes. Her opponent has conceded and party officials were confident the lead would hold with only a few provisional, military and overseas ballots left to tally.

“What’s really incredible is the different experiences and backgrounds that will be represented on the board,” Richardson said. “It’s how we can chart a path forward as a county.”

Richardson said her top priority would be improving cooperation among the various levels of government in Cobb, from the school board to the legislature. She said local voters she met during her mostly-digital campaign were concerned about transit and transportation, balanced development, potential cityhood for East Cobb and Sterigenics, a local medical sterilizer whose emissions have sparked state intervention and lawsuits.

Richardson also said she heard many people voice concerns about policing, especially in communities of color.

“As a Black female, it’s an issue that I’ve experienced throughout my life,” Richardson said, adding she aims to foster a “nuanced dialogue” about gaps and opportunities in local public safety.

Richardson will join fellow Democrats Lisa Cupid, who was elected commission chair, and Monique Sheffield, who ran unopposed to represent South Cobb. Both Cupid and Sheffield are also Black women. Republicans JoAnn Birrell and Keli Gambrill, who are white, fill the other two seats on what is soon to be an all-woman commission.

Jacquelyn Bettadapur, who leads the Democratic party in Cobb, heralded the county’s “young, diverse, forward thinking leadership that will develop collaborative, inclusive solutions to the challenges we face rather than be mired down in old, worn out, divisive narratives that prevented us from moving forward.”

Richardson’s Republican opponent, Fitz Johnson, expressed confidence in her.

“She ran a good clean race and I’m sure she’ll do a great job,” Johnson said. “We have to work together to move Cobb forward, and I’m going to continue to do my part.”

Jason Shepherd, the Cobb GOP chair, said he wasn’t surprised by the outcome.

“We looked at the numbers and knew it was going to be a very difficult post to hold," he said.

Shepherd attributed Johnson’s narrow loss to shifting demographics in the Smyrna area, a close suburb of Atlanta which has increasingly attracted a diverse, educated population in recent years.

Cobb has become more competitive for Democrats at the top of the ticket, but until recently Republicans dominated local politics. Richardson will replace Commissioner Bob Ott, a Republican who decided against running for reelection this year.

On Election Day, Howard Smith, a retired faculty member of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia and a former city administrator for the city of Smyrna, was waving a Jerica Richardson sign outside the King Spring Baptist Church as voters cast their ballots inside.

Smith, a former Republican who left the party when George W. Bush invaded Iraq, joked he was “voting blue no matter who,” but added how impressed he was with Richardson as a person and a candidate.

“I appreciate the vision that she has for Cobb County, which is really about bringing more people together,” Smith said. “Smyrna is not the community it used to be by any means.

"I’ve seen unbelievable change, very positive change.”

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