Michael Thurmond, a former school superintendent and state labor commissioner, is considering a campaign to lead beleaguered DeKalb County.
Thurmond told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday that citizens are encouraging him to run for DeKalb County CEO, though he hasn’t made a “final decision.”
Thurmond would instantly become a formidable contender for the seat that has been held by Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May for two and a half years. May was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal after CEO Burrell Ellis’ indictment.
“We’re in a crisis, truth be told,” Thurmond said. “This is a very critical period in the history of our county, and clearly there are issues that must be addressed. … It would be a challenge even greater than what we faced in the school system.”
May is also weighing a run for a full four-year term.
“Michael Thurmond’s contributions to the state of Georgia and to DeKalb County are numerous, and he left both governments better off than when he started,” May said in a statement Wednesday. “I consider him a close friend and a great resident of DeKalb.”
The winner of the election will oversee a county of 722,000 residents with an annual $1.31 billion budget.
Thurmond, an attorney, was hired as DeKalb’s superintendent in February 2013 to bring stability to the school system when its accreditation was in doubt. The school board hired a permanent superintendent, R. Stephen Green, in July.
Thurmond previously served as a Democratic member of the Georgia House of Representatives from 1987 to 1992, and he was elected Georgia Labor Commissioner in 1998.
DeKalb has seen numerous controversies in the last few years. Several county leaders have been convicted, including Ellis and former Commissioner Elaine Boyer.
Thurmond said it would be difficult to repair the county.
“It’s the cumulative impact of multiple issues over a number of years,” he said. “It’s not any one thing or one person. It’s death by a thousand cuts.”
Another potential candidate for the CEO’s seat, retired DeKalb Sheriff Thomas Brown, said he won’t enter the campaign if Thurmond decides to run.
“I want it to be someone who can navigate DeKalb County out of troubled waters,” Brown said. “Of the names I’m hearing so far, Mike Thurmond in my opinion is an individual who can handle those challenges.”
Former DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones also could return to politics. He left office in 2009 having served two terms. DeKalb’s charter allows him to run again. He didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Another possible candidate is Calvin Sims, a longtime DeKalb resident who previously ran for CEO and county commission seats. Sims didn’t return a phone message Wednesday.
Candidates will file to run for office in March, leaving less than two months before the May 24 Democratic primary election.
In DeKalb, where a majority of residents vote for Democratic Party candidates, the primary usually decides the race. The general election is Nov. 8.
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