Disapproval of Adams fueled Cochran-Johnson commission win in DeKalb

Lorraine Cochran-Johnson won a seat on the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners in the July 24, 2018, runoff. Photo via Facebook.
Lorraine Cochran-Johnson won a seat on the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners in the July 24, 2018, runoff. Photo via Facebook.

Weighed down by the fallout from a sexual harassment complaint and a controversial vote to raise his salary 60 percent, DeKalb County Commissioner Gregory Adams was defeated Tuesday.

His challenger, businesswoman Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, will join the Board of Commissioners on Jan. 1 after winning nearly 63 percent of the votes in the runoff, according to the unofficial results. Several residents told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that ousting Adams was important.

“I probably voted against Adams as much as I voted for Cochran-Johnson,” north DeKalb resident Micah Gaffney said. “I took issue with the allegations of sexual misconduct and his harassment conviction and the way in which he addressed those allegations at the June commission meeting.”

Gaffney was referring to a tearful speech Adams delivered at the end of a Board of Commissioners meeting in which he denied the allegations and pointed a finger at his accuser, Ashlee Wright, a former aide. He said she was making up the harassment and trying to collect money.

In October, a county investigation determined Adams had violated sexual harassment policies and ordered him to get training. Wright has asked the county for a $750,000 settlement and has also sued Adams and his wife for defamation.

Larry Lowe, who lives in the Northlake area, said he voted for Cochran-Johnson for two reasons: “ethics and change.”

“My vote wasn’t necessarily pro-Lorraine, because neither candidate had a robust platform or cause,” he said. “But I believe Lorraine will bring a new, younger perspective.”

Cochran-Johnson is 48, and Adams is 54.

Among Cochran-Johnson’s supporters were the other two candidates who challenged Adams this year but finished third and fourth in the primary — Ed Williams and John E. Tolbert Jr. Williams said he decided early on that, if he didn’t make it past the first ballot, he would support her.

“John, Lorraine and myself all agreed that anyone would be better than Adams remaining in office,” Williams said.

Williams entered the race primarily because six commissioners, Adams included, voted in February to raise their base pay by 60 percent. That vote was taken without explanation or debate, and the salary issue was not on the meeting agenda. It took many residents by surprise.

In the days leading up to the runoff, Williams waved signs along Memorial Drive for Cochran-Johnson and emailed her campaign materials to his supporters. He said he was “jubilant” after learning she had won.

Cochran-Johnson said questions about the pay raise issue and the sexual harassment complaint came up often on the campaign trail. But she hopes to pivot to the issues she holds dear as she prepares to take office, such as improving public safety and economic development.

She also wants to reduce blight in her district, especially in South DeKalb.

“You are what people perceive. So, when you see high grass and you see rundown buildings, these are all things we need to address more actively,” she said.

Adams released a statement on Tuesday thanking those who supported him and promising to keep working through the end of his time in office.

“It has been an honor to serve,” he said. “I look forward to making additional progress on these key issues as I close out my term this year and working with my successor on a smooth transition.”

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