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DeKalb incumbents face challenges in primary election

Four DeKalb County incumbents — a judge, and two county commissioners and a school board member — face opposition in the May 22 primary election. The ballot also includes a Board of Education seat and a judicial post that became open because of retirements.

Among the incumbents in contested races is the Board of Education’s current vice chairman Marshall Orson, who faces a challenge for his District 2 seat from DeKalb parent and attorney Candice D. McKinley. McKinley did not return calls seeking comment.

As of late, Orson has led the charge against annexation efforts. Late last year, the city of Atlanta annexed the Centers for Disease Control and Emory University. Atlanta Public Schools gained nine students and about $2.5 million in tax revenue in the move. District officials said they initially were told the school district would not be affected in the land deal.

“I think we’ve made substantial progress in transforming the district,” he said. “We’ve re-instituted pay raises, ended furlough days, we’re seeing rising test scores, we hired a great superintendent … but I feel like we haven’t completed that transition.”

Attorney Genet Hopewell qualified to run against incumbent Superior Court Chief Judge Courtney Johnson. Hopewell has criticized Johnson for the overturned conviction of former CEO Burrell Ellis and an incident where she was accused of causing an attorney to have an accident in court by denying a trip to the restroom.

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Johnson says she is the target mudslinging intended to tarnish her name through misinformation.

“I pledge to continue to run a clean campaign based on my experience and what I bring to the bench, but I cannot allow anyone to disparage the reputation that I’ve built over my entire career with falsehoods,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

DeKalb County voters go to the polls at Henderson Mill Elementary School on Georgia’s primary election day in 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

County Commissioner Larry Johnson, who has served for 16 years, faces a challenge from Felton Wright. Johnson said he hopes voters allow him to continue representing District 3 now that the county has recovered from the recession and successfully approved the new SPLOST tax.

Wright, a retired AT&T employee, has a campaign message focused on crime and blight.

“I am running for commissioner to improve the quality of life by utilizing the sanitation department and code enforcement and to reduce crime,” he said.

Commissioner Gregory Adams is campaigning to be elected to his first full term in office but faces three opponents: Ed Williams, a community activist who has opposed recent cityhood efforts in South DeKalb, media executive Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, and John Tolbert Jr., who was among the candidates who lost to Adams in 2016.

Incumbents who decided to retire from public office created additional contested races for their open seats.

Six candidates are vying to succeed Superior Court Judge Dan Coursey: Tunde Akinyele, Gina Bernard, Roderick Bridges, Kirby Clements Jr., Latisha Dear-Jackson and Nicholas Smith.

Lance Hammonds and Diijon DaCosta are seeking the Board of Education’s District 6 seat being vacated by past board Chairman Melvin Johnson. DaCosta has spoken at forums about being a graduate of DeKalb schools who knows firsthand about students’ needs.

It has been five years since Gov. Nathan Deal intervened and removed six school board members amid mismanagement concerns and a $14 million deficit. Hammond said he brings professional experience that can be put to use helping DeKalb schools move forward.

“There’s a need,” Hammonds said. “When I look at my community and I see where it is and how it can grow and progress, I keep coming back to (the fact that) we need to strengthen our schools.”

The following incumbents were the only people to qualify for their positions, all but guaranteeing re-election: County commissioner Jeff Rader, Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson and State Court judges Johnny Panos and Alvin Wong.

Parent advocate Allyson Gevertz is running unopposed for the school board’s District 4 seat after current board member James “Jim” McMahan decided not to seek another term. She’s a co-founder of Parent Councils United, a countywide advocacy group focused on academic excellence.

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