Voters will choose the first mayor of the the fledgling city of Stonecrest later this month in a race that pits one of its founding fathers against a former candidate for state representative and a political neophyte.
Jason Lary, who spearheaded the Stonecrest cityhood campaign, says becoming mayor would allow him to realize his vision for business growth and cleaner communities. He faces Charles Hill, who questions Lary’s financial record and integrity, as well as Douglas Favors, a newcomer who is urging residents to “vote for the beard.”
The winner of the March 21 election will take charge of Stonecrest, a city of 50,000 people in southeast DeKalb County approved by 59 percent of voters in November. Seventeen other candidates are running for five City Council seats in the area near the existing city of Lithonia along I-20.
Lary, a real estate investor and concert promoter, said he’ll attract companies by quickly approving business licenses and marketing the area. He told about 100 people at a DeKalb NAACP candidate forum this week that approving the city was just the beginning.
“Give me an opportunity to finish the work that we have started,” Lary said.
Hill, who works for a small business that renovates and rents apartments to college students, said Lary is the wrong person for the job. Hill ran for the Georgia House of Representatives last spring in a race won by Rep. Vernon Jones, D-Lithonia.
Hill said Lary’s previous bankruptcies show he’s not a responsible money manager. Hill also questions Lary’s political backing from Vaughn Irons, a developer who’s been entangled in controversies involving county contracts awarded to his company and a failed attempt to open a gaming resort.
“I want something different to happen in a newly incorporated city of Stonecrest. I’m tired of the corruption,” Hill said in an interview. “If the right leadership isn’t in place from the start, we could be facing a very dire situation.”
Hill said he didn’t attend the candidate forum because Irons was one of the moderators.
Lary defended his association with Irons, saying he’s a smart businessman who’s developing the planned 200-acre Atlanta Sports City complex near Stonecrest Mall. Lary also said he’s learned and recovered from his bankruptcies, which occurred after the recession damaged his concert promotion and real estate businesses.
Irons said Hill, who is 30 years old, lacks the experience and temperament needed in a mayor. Lary is 54, and Favors is 34.
“The way he’s campaigning is the way he would govern,” Irons said after the candidate forum. “This is a serious job. I’m not sure he’s really lived long enough to digest the scope of this job and what the citizens will be entrusting him with.”
Lary said every decision he would make as Stonecrest’s mayor would be in the interest of the city’s residents.
“I’m not going to betray the public trust. That’s not in me,” Lary said in an interview. “I’m a good businessman. But most of all, I’m an honorable person. I didn’t found this city and help build it only to embarrass us and tear it down in the end. That’s not going to happen.”
Favors, who has worked as an Uber driver and in retail, told voters he wants to beautify the area through aggressive city enforcement of blighted properties. Then businesses will decide to move in, he said.
“No one ever says, ‘There’s high crime, the schools suck, let’s bring our business over,’” Favors said. “Those things have got to be intact.”
After the election, the city of Stonecrest will begin providing a few services to residents, such as code enforcement and zoning. A city police force could be added in the future.
With a total of 20 candidates running for mayor and City Council, a runoff election is likely. A runoff would be held April 18.
The creation of the city of Stonecrest is a rare chance for newly elected officials and voters to set the course for their community, said Teresa Hardy, president of the DeKalb NAACP.
“It can make a difference,” she said. “It will show even other counties that great things can happen in south DeKalb.”
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