Fulton to consider Cathy Woolard as new elections board chair

Cathy Woolard speaks before the start of a mayoral forum on November 28, 2017, at the Carter Center in Atlanta. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Cathy Woolard speaks before the start of a mayoral forum on November 28, 2017, at the Carter Center in Atlanta. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

The Fulton County Commission is expected to consider Democrat and former Atlanta City Council president Cathy Woolard as the next county elections board chairperson.

Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts put Woolard’s nomination on the agenda of Wednesday’s meeting. The seat is open because former chair Alex Wan resigned in August after five months to run for Atlanta city council.

Woolard — like Wan — knows what it’s like to run for elected office.

Atlantans will know her name from her third-place finish in the 2017 Atlanta mayor’s race, where she finished just 4,000 votes behind Mary Norwood, who eventually lost to Keisha Lance Bottoms in a runoff. Fun fact: After she bowed out, Woolard endorsed Wan for his unsuccessful council president bid.

A University of Georgia alumna, Woolard was a long-time advocate for LGBTQ+ rights before 1997 when she became the first openly gay Atlanta City Council member. The 40-year-old Woolard ousted an incumbent of 20 years for the District 6 seat.

In 2002, she made history again as the first woman to serve as president of the Atlanta City Council. She gave up the seat in 2004 and became the first openly gay candidate to run for Congress in Georgia, resulting in a primary loss to Cynthia McKinney for the 4th Congressional District.

Between then and her 2017 mayoral run, Woolard was a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood and Georgia Equality, according to news coverage. In 2008, she started at the Atlanta-based headquarters of global relief agency CARE, where she became a vice president with a staff of 175 people at one point.

Elections board chairs help manage direction and tone but also oversee the elections director running day-to-day operations.

Woolard would take over at a fraught time.

A bipartisan panel appointed by the State Election Board is conducting an investigation that could lead to a takeover of county elections. They derive that power from Senate Bill 202, a bill passed by Georgia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly soon after the 2020 election cycle ended.

The takeover, one of the many things included in the bill’s 98 pages, could mean the elections board is replaced by a temporary superintendent with authority over vote counting, polling places and staffing.

Pitts said at the last commission meeting he wanted to nominate someone who could withstand the scrutiny.

“I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt,” he said. " ... We need our best possible person.”

He said so after Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman tried and failed to nominate Alicia M. Ivey as elections board chair.

“With all due respect, you’re doing a disservice because you’re painting her as weak,” Abdur-Rahman said. Ivey’s nomination is back on the agenda.

The Fulton County Commission meeting begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday in assembly hall at 141 Pryor in downtown Atlanta and can be streamed at http://bit.ly/WatchFGTV.

Credit: WSBTV Videos

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