Several contentious Fulton County runoffs will be decided Tuesday, as voters go to the polls to vote in races for sheriff, solicitor general and superior court judges.
In the sheriff’s race, incumbent Ted Jackson is facing off against Richard Lankford, who held the position more than 20 years ago. Jackson, the former FBI chief agent in Atlanta, last defeated Lankford in 2012. The winner will face Republican Ben Cowart in November.
Lankford, who also ran for the office in 1996, said he has remained connected to the department, though he has been retired since 1992 and working as a pastor in recent years. Lankford was convicted in 1990 of tax evasion and extortion after becoming a target of the FBI. The conviction was later overturned on appeal.
Though he knew the matter would come up when he ran, Lankford said he still wanted to run because “it’s still important to me.” If elected, he said, he wants to improve morale in the department, which he said is low, and increase the number of sheriff’s deputies in the community and detention officers at the jail.
“I never lost the bond with the sheriff’s department,” he said. “I expect the negative image to try to convince voters that (I’m) a crooked guy, but it’s not true.”
Jackson, who became sheriff in 2009, said the department was dysfunctional when he took over. Since then, he said, he has gotten the county jail out from a federal consent decree by doing things like fixing the locks. He is blanketing the county courthouse with cameras, has created an organizational structure for the department and forged relationships with the police chiefs of Fulton County’s 14 cities, as well as the county.
Jackson cited pre-literacy, counseling and canine cellmate programs as some of his initiatives that help give inmates opportunities while they are in the jail. His biggest concern, he said, is a lease on a Union City facility where female inmates are housed that is due to expire this year. Jackson said he hopes to renew it.
To vote for Lankford, he said, would be to go back in time when the county needs to move forward.
“We have to change with the times,” Jackson said. “We can’t have a warrior mentality any more. …The sheriff’s office isn’t broken; it don’t need to be fixed.”
Keith Gammage and Clinton Rucker are battling to be solicitor general, a position that prosecutes misdemeanors like simple battery and DUI. Both said they want to use the position to help keep some offenders out of the criminal justice system.
Gammage, the chief assistant solicitor general in Clayton County, said he thinks the tools of the system — like diversion programs — can be used to empower people. Overzealous prosecution of crimes that are really missteps, he said, don’t do the community any good. He cited as an example the zero-tolerance policies of many high schools that mean teenage shoving matches get sent to his office.
Rucker, the chief senior assistant district attorney in the Fulton County DA’s office, was the co-lead prosecutor in the Atlanta Public Schools trial and prosecuted courthouse shooter Brian Nichols. He wants to be solicitor general, he said, because he wants to divert people who are committing misdemeanors before they move on to felonies.
It needs “somebody who is a visionary,” he said. As solicitor general, he said, he “would have more flexibility about how cases are processed through the system” in order to redirect people and give them second chances.
Belinda Edwards and Sterling Eaves are vying for one seat on Superior Court, while Eric Dunaway and Gary Alembik are competing for another.
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