Gwinnett now knows which Democrats will compete for two county commission seats this fall, an election that could take an historic turn.
If either candidate who emerged from Tuesday’s party primaries were to top the Republican incumbent in their respective district come November, they would be the first Democrat on the county’s governing body in more than three decades — and the first non-white commission member in Gwinnett’s history.
The significance is not lost on Ben Ku or Marlene Fosque, who had dominated their opponents for the nods from District 2 and 4, respectively.
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In a pre-primary interview, Ku, 36, called it “kind of appalling” that the Gwinnett’s recent rebranding efforts alluded to the county’s diversity while its leadership is anything but.
“The representation isn’t there – and we have commissioners who have been very vocal against diversity,” said Ku, who is of mixed-race and Chinese descent. His reference was to controversial Facebook comments made last year by current Commissioner Tommy Hunter.
“I see that as a big problem, as a lack of representation. There’s a disconnect there. … [The commission] doesn’t have counter-voices that can advance the discussion.”
With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Ku, a software engineer and small business owner, had about 63 percent of the vote in his District 2 race against restaurateur Desmond Nembhard. Fosque, a 55-year-old retiree from the insurance industry, accumulated nearly 75 percent of the unofficial vote totel en route to topping local attorney Greg McKeithen for the District 4 nod.
According to the most recent census data, Gwinnett County’s population of more than 900,000 is about 39 percent white; 28 percent black; 21 percent Latino; and 12 percent Asian. A handful of minority candidates have run for Gwinnett’s commission — and for its school board — in recent years but none have been successful. Ongoing litigation argues that Gwinnett’s districts are drawn to dilute minority influence.
But while Gwinnett is a majority-minority county, the voting population may still be more than half white.
According to statistics based on 2010 census data and compiled as part of a Voting Right Act lawsuit against Gwinnett County (one that argues that its commission and school board districts are drawn to dilute the influence of minority voters), white residents make up about 56 percent of Gwinnett’s overall voting age population. The percentage is similar in commission districts 2 and 4.
District 2 includes the Norcross, Peachtree Corners and Lilburn areas. District 4 covers chunks of the Lawrenceville and Buford areas.
Fosque, who is black, has advocated for more diversity not just on the commission but on other boards and government bodies.
“We have to have representation that represents the population,” Fosque said in an interview prior to Tuesday’s primary. “… I don’t think we should have people just because of their skin color. But I think that when we look at the qualifications, we [should] look at everything that someone can bring to the table.”
Fosque will face Republican John Heard, who was first elected to the commission in 2010, in the Nov. 6 general election. Ku will face Republican Lynette Howard, who is also seeking her third term.
Both parties were holding primaries for a pair of open school board seats, too — and the board could see its first-ever non-white member come the fall as well.
The District 2 primaries were blowouts. Wandy Taylor took more than 62 percent of the vote in the Democratic race against Donald May, and Stephen Knudsen had about 66 percent of the vote in the Republican contest against Carol Cynthia Ranft.
The District 4 primaries were tighter.
Everton Blair took about 53 percent of the vote in his Democratic primary against Mark Williams. On the Republican side, Charles “Chuck” Studebaker had about the same margin of victory over opponent Randall Lee.
A handful of nonpartisan Gwinnett judicial races also appeared to be decided — or nearly so — on Tuesday night.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Tracie Cason had accumulated 61 percent of the votes in her Superior Court judge race against B.T. Parker and Wesley Person for one spot on the county’s Superior Court bench. Another Superior Court contest appeared headed for a runoff.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Veronica Cope and Tracey Mason were the top two vote-getters among five candidates in their race. Both were approaching 30 percent of the votes but, because neither crossed the 50 percent threshold, they will square off on July 24.
In a state court judge race, local attorney Ronda Colvin-Leary took about 60 percent of the votes to win over opponent Lance Tyler.
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