Endorsement dust-up raises eyebrows in DeKalb commission race

DeKalb County Commissioner Super District 6 candidates Maryam Ahmad and Ted Terry. FILE PHOTOS
DeKalb County Commissioner Super District 6 candidates Maryam Ahmad and Ted Terry. FILE PHOTOS

Runoff spotlights candidate's relationships with former colleagues

Late last week, a group called the Asian American Advocacy Fund endorsed Maryam Ahmad — a young upstart candidate and first-generation Pakistani-American — in her runoff election for the DeKalb County commission.

The subsequent reaction of her opponent, former Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, raised a few eyebrows, while also putting a fresh spotlight on his rocky relationship with many former colleagues.

Ahmad and Terry, both Democrats who bill themselves as progressive candidates, are competing in the Aug. 11 runoff to represent DeKalb’s Super District 6, which covers the western half of the county. With no Republican challenger waiting for a general election showdown, the winner will replace retiring Commissioner Kathie Gannon.

The Asian American Advocacy Fund, which describes itself as a “social welfare organization dedicated to building a politically-conscious, engaged, and progressive Asian American base in Georgia,” published its endorsement of Ahmad last Friday. Terry then sent emails to a handful of people questioning why the group would back his opponent.

In an email with the subject line “anti immigrant endorsements,” he appeared to conflate AAAF’s support for Ahmad with her purported backing from another former Clarkston mayor, Emanuel Ransom.

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Terry characterized Ransom, who he defeated in an election for mayor in 2013, as “anti-immigrant” because of past comments about slowing the influx of refugees into the city (a charge Ransom refutes). Clarkston is often referred to as the “Ellis Island of the South” because it is a frequent landing spot for refugees and immigrants.

“What’s wrong with that public image?” Terry wrote in the email.

The AAAF quickly responded in a statement posted to Facebook, calling the suggestion that their endorsement was somehow anti-immigrant “disrespectful to our organization and the communities we serve.”

Terry apologized, calling his statements a “poor choice of words” and saying he was trying to look out for the reputation of the organization.

To be clear, Ahmad has not claimed an endorsement from Ransom. But in a recent debate, she pointed out that a large number of former and current Clarkston elected officials had supported either her or fellow candidate Emily Halevy, who did not make the runoff. Halevy’s website listed Ransom as a supporter.

Ahmad said that Terry’s lack of support from former colleagues “speaks volumes.”

“All of those people that he’s worked with before don’t think he’s capable of this position,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad, a public health data analyst and activist who grew up in DeKalb, lists endorsements from acting Clarkston Mayor Awet Eyasu and Councilwoman Laura Hopkins on her website. Both served with Terry before he resigned in March to pursue a spot on the county commission.

Hopkins said Terry encouraged her to run for City Council in 2017, and she supported him at the time. She lost that race, but launched a successful run in 2019.

She said she was largely backed by fellow residents who were no longer fans of the mayor.

”I agree with what he says, but not what he does,” Hopkins said in an interview, adding that she is also a progressive.

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Hopkins said the recent endorsement dust-up is “very, very typical of what he’s done” in Clarkston. She found him hard to work with and antagonistic toward those who disagreed with him.

Hopkins said she supports Ahmad because she seems genuinely concerned about underserved populations.

Terry, who has also drawn heat for joining the DeKalb commission race only after it became apparent that his U.S. Senate run was going nowhere, described those who have endorsed his opponents as local political rivals. He said it comes with the territory.

“The people that are being touted as against me are known in Clarkston as the problematic people,” Terry said. “Honestly I’m glad they’re not endorsing, because I wouldn’t want their endorsement, quite frankly.”

Terry was also quick to point out that he does have the backing of two current members of the Clarkston City Council (YT Bell and Jamie Carroll), and that voters in Clarkston precincts supported him by a healthy margin in last month’s primary.

“My record as Clarkston mayor I think was appreciated,” Terry said.

That record includes putting a $15 minimum wage in place for city employees; making election day a holiday; and decriminalizing simple marijuana possession. Terry has made his experience in government a key part of his campaign.

Ahmad, meanwhile, is running on a health-first platform that plays to her experience as a public health professional.

Her proposals include pushing for an ambitious community survey asking DeKalb residents about their ability to access and afford things like housing, jobs, transportation and health care. The idea is that results would then be analyzed and used to steer public policy, with an emphasis on addressing existing disparities and preventing them in the future.

“We have to make sure that all communities are treated with respect,” Ahmad said.

Early voting in the Aug. 11 runoff has already started. Click here for a schedule.