DeKalb elections: Commission’s lone Republican faces challenger

November’s ballots include just one contested race for the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners. But it’s an intriguing one.

Incumbent Nancy Jester is the commission’s lone Republican and has represented District 1 — which covers parts of Dunwoody, Chamblee, Doraville and Tucker — since 2014. She’s being challenged by Democrat Robert Patrick, a former Doraville city councilman.

While much of the day-to-day work of a county commissioner could be considered nonpartisan, a Jester victory would help the GOP maintain a foothold in a county that’s one of Georgia’s deepest reservoirs of Democratic voters.

If Patrick wins, Democrats will take full ownership of the local commission and continue a recent trend of flipping seats in DeKalb’s historically conservative northern tip.

“On her record alone, it would be very difficult to make an argument for anybody running against Nancy Jester,” DeKalb GOP chairman Lane Flynn said.

Jester took office after winning a special election to replace longtime District 1 Commissioner Elaine Boyer, who had resigned before pleading guilty to federal fraud charges. She was uncontested in her 2016 reelection campaign.

During her time on the commission, Jester has chaired the board’s finance and budget committee, helping lead the push for internal audits of any proposed contract over $1 million. Never shy to challenge administration officials or fellow commissioners, she’s also taken a particular interest in the county’s long-standing sewer issues.

She said maintaining continuity in leadership is key to helping DeKalb continue to work through its many complex issues.

“I’ve been pragmatic and gotten work done,” Jester said. “That’s what I hope that the people of DeKalb recognize.”

Patrick had served on the Doraville City Council since 2012 before resigning to enter the commission race. He navigated a four-way Democratic primary and a subsequent runoff to earn a spot on the general election ballot.

Patrick said his experience with Doraville and his day job as a senior planner for the city of Norcross have prepared him to be a good commissioner. He touted his role in economic development efforts and infrastructure improvements in both cities, and said they would be a focus on the commission.

He said he would work to continue improving the county’s relationship with local cities and bridge the divide between north and south DeKalb. Referencing Jester’s often contentious conversations with fellow commissioners, he said he would also be as diplomatic as possible.

“There’s a way to communicate your point where you actually get more people that want to work with you collaboratively," Patrick said. "And that’s really critical.”

Northern DeKalb has historically leaned further right than the rest of the county, but Democrats flipped three state legislature seats there in 2018 (and also helped U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath win her congressional seat).

DeKalb Democrats chairman John Jackson likes Patrick’s chances.

“He represents a continuation of the blue wave, and not just in DeKalb County but all of metro Atlanta,” Jackson said.

Advance in-person voting starts Monday and is available at 12 locations throughout DeKalb. The county has also set up nearly two dozen dropboxes for absentee ballots.

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