Hotly contested Fulton DA race gets personal

For the past 19 years, Election Day has been just another date on Paul Howard’s calendar.

The six-time incumbent hasn’t sweated an election since 2000, when he narrowly defeated Republican John Turner. Since then, he’s run unopposed.

His bid for a seventh term as Fulton County District Attorney is likely to continue into Wednesday, if not later, as polls remained open in Fulton until 9 p.m. Results were not available at press time.

A close race is expected, with two former assistant prosecutors challenging Howard in the Democratic primary. Fani Willis, his onetime chief deputy, has raised significantly more money while relentlessly attacking Howard’s management style and integrity. Christian Wise Smith, another former Fulton prosecutor, has struck a chord with the party’s more progressive voters, vowing a dramatic transformation of the office. He secured the endorsement of influential rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris.

Howard — facing three civil lawsuits alleging harassment or gender discrimination, numerous allegations from the state ethics commission and a GBI investigation over his use of a nonprofit’s funds to supplement his salary — came out swinging Friday at a candidate’s forum. He accused Willis of promising not to prosecute police officers in exchange for the Atlanta Police Union’s endorsement and repeatedly questioned her party affiliation.

After the debate, a flier appeared featuring photos of Willis, two-time mayoral candidate Mary Norwood, now chairwoman of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, and President Donald Trump in which Willis is labeled as a Republican. It states, “Don’t Let Them Lynch Paul Howard.”

“I’ve never picked up a Republican ballot in my life,” said Willis, who has vowed to end the high turnover in the DA’s office. “(Howard) has no problem lying.”

Howard disavowed the flier, writing in a Facebook post that the term lynching should never be used lightly.

“Its use yesterday by unnamed cowards is offensive to me, as I am sure it is offensive to others,” he wrote. “My name is Paul Howard. I am the Fulton County District Attorney, and I did not write or approve that flyer.”

Howard drew more controversy last week when he announced charges against six Atlanta police officers involved in the recent tasings of two college students during protests downtown. APD chief Erika Shields called the move “a tsunami of political jockeying during an election year.”

Less than three hours before the polls closed, Howard released a statement in response to what he said was a call for his resignation from the Atlanta Police Union. Union officials say they never sought his resignation but instead asked Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to suspend Howard until the GBI’s investigation is resolved.

“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but in the last two weeks the world has changed,” Howard wrote. “Citizens on every continent have announced that police misconduct against civilians will no longer be tolerated.”

It’s possible the race won’t be decided this week. If none of the candidates receive more than 50 percent of the vote a runoff will be held Aug. 11 featuring the top two vote-getters.