Local elections may reshape metro political landscape

Pat Sims votes at the Buckhead Library on Oct. 12, 2021, as early voting locations opened across Georgia. Featuring the race for mayor of Atlanta and local contests statewide, the elections will be the first time many voters go to the polls since the General Assembly passed Georgia’s new voting law in March. Voters will decide on mayors, city councils, school boards and tax referendums. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
caption arrowCaption
Pat Sims votes at the Buckhead Library on Oct. 12, 2021, as early voting locations opened across Georgia. Featuring the race for mayor of Atlanta and local contests statewide, the elections will be the first time many voters go to the polls since the General Assembly passed Georgia’s new voting law in March. Voters will decide on mayors, city councils, school boards and tax referendums. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Several local races pit Republican incumbents against Democratic challengers hoping to capture momentum from recent statewide victories

The race for Atlanta’s next mayor might be grabbing most of the local political attention this November, but elections in the suburbs could be equally as impactful for state politics.

The ‘burbs have become the front line for statewide election. Given Georgia’s Democratic turn in 2020 and newfound status as a swing state, several liberal candidates are aiming to further that momentum at the local level.

Mayoral races in Marietta and Tucker feature left-leaning challengers facing off with incumbents who have Republican ties. Local Democratic leaders claim Atlanta’s suburbs are no longer GOP strongholds and that change is coming.

“It’s the status quo versus people that want to tap into this growth and forward movement,” Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chairman for Cobb County Democrats, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “We’ve been seeing these trends in Cobb County for several cycles.”

ExploreAJC voter guides for the Nov. 2 election

Voters in three counties — Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton — will get to consider special purpose local option sales taxes for education (ESPLOST) on Tuesday, but the real struggle in the suburbs can be seen in local elections where party affiliation is a factor.

Atlanta’s northern suburbs have swung blue the past few national and statewide elections, leading local politicians to try to unseat established incumbents who have longstanding roots in Republican politics.

Tucker Mayor Frank Auman, the former chairman of the DeKalb GOP, faces off with Robin Biro, a field director for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Biro doesn’t hide that prominent DeKalb County Democrats selected him to run against Auman, who they claim no longer represents Tucker given its residents typically vote for Democrats in high-profile elections.

“If we’re able to get out the vote for Robin, then he’s going to win because Robin is more representative of Tucker than Frank Auman,” John Jackson, chairman of DeKalb Democrats, previously told the AJC. “We really find it important to win this.”

Auman, the city’s founding mayor after it incorporated in 2015, argues political affiliation should not be the primary factor when supporting local politicians, adding that his opponent is trying to capitalize on DeKalb’s status as one of Georgia’s bluest counties.

ExplorePartisan politics enter Tucker mayoral race. Who does it help?

“If you’re going to run on a party, you’ve got to own everything about that party,” Auman said. “Municipal races are designed as nonpartisan races for a lot of good reasons.”

Established politicians in older cities face challengers as well.

Two-term Marietta Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly is selling herself as a candidate for change. Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin, a former Republican state representative who has been mayor since 2010, is running a campaign off of stability and not rocking the boat. Bettadapur said the candidates’ campaign slogans tell voters all they need to know.

“Mayor Tumlin’s slogan is ‘Keep Marietta Marietta.’ And Michelle Cooper Kelly’s slogan is ‘Move Marietta forward,’” she said. “I think that just encapsulates the whole contest of where Cobb is heading.”

Cobb Democrats have their eyes on the mayor’s seat as one that can be flipped. However, Republican leaders in Cobb said Tumlin’s conservative policies and leadership will keep him in office.

“Over his tenure I think there have been some great policies and some very common sense approaches to growth in the city,” said Cobb GOP Chairman Salleigh Grubbs on Monday, adding that policy positions should matter more than partisanship in municipal elections. “He’s been able to keep our taxes low which is important as a conservative and to make sure that city government runs in a very efficient manner.”

Issues pertinent to Atlanta’s mayoral race are also bleeding into the suburbs, especially the fear of increased crime. In Johns Creek and Sandy Springs, flyers were distributed on behalf of right-leaning candidates to warn voters they could see a spike in violent crime if they choose the wrong candidates on Election Day.

ExploreCrime fears emerge in Johns Creek, Sandy Springs municipal elections

The flyers were met with criticisms that they were nothing more than thinly veiled racism against Black candidates, but Fulton County Republican Party Chairman Trey Kelly pushed back on that interpretation, calling it a “narrative that the Democrats push regularly.” He said campaigns for law and order have nothing to do with race.

Cobb Democrats said on Facebook that the insinuation that electing progressive candidates will lead to lawlessness and high taxes are mere window dressing to avoid the changing tides, which they hope to see come to fruition Tuesday in Marietta.

“It’s just a reflection of a lot of people moving into the county that are younger, more diverse as opposed to the Republican establishment, where a lot of them have their roots in what was going on 30 or 40 years ago,” Bettadapur said. “... There’s people that want to keep it the way it was and people that want to move it forward into the 21st Century.”

ExploreA new era of voting in Georgia is about to begin. Are we ready?

More election news:

Mayoral races to watch in north Fulton

Interesting races in DeKalb County

Key races in Cobb County

Catch up on Gwinnett County elections

Election poised to change Johns Creek

Two sales tax referendums on the ballot in Fulton County

Metro school districts seek sales tax extensions

About the Author

Editors' Picks