Vernon (he’s a first-name kind of guy) is running for an open seat in the Democratic primary in a heavily Democratic and black district encompassing east DeKalb and much of Rockdale County.
That he’s running to get to where he started out 24 years ago — one of 180 state House members — shows he’s digested reality. Each time he’s tried to get back in the business — U.S. Senate, congressman and then sheriff — his ambitions have shrunk.
It’s hard to know how he’ll do this time, but his yard signs dwarf those of his three unknown opponents: David Neville, Rhonda Taylor and Charles Hill.
As a yardstick, we can study his 2010 congressional race. In that, he lost the four DeKalb precincts in House District 92 to Congressman Hank Johnson, 48 percent to 35 percent. (Connie Stokes got the remaining votes.) In Rockdale’s nine precincts, he lost nearly 2-1.
But he not running against a congressman this time.
I called Vernon to ask what’s up but got no reply. Last time we met, he gave me the finger. But it’s not just me, he doesn’t like the media much.
Recently, my colleague Rhonda Cook was getting a pedicure at an Inman Park pedicurium when he strolled in on his cell phone, spotted Rhonda, spun around and stalked out to return later for his grooming.
My guess is the tall and dapper pol misses the game dearly. He misses the security details, the crowds of people, the babies who need kissing. And he misses having a hand in figuring out how to spend other people’s money.
When elected CEO in 2000, it seemed the savvy Jones was destined for Congress or better. But a mean streak also surfaced. He believes everyone has it out for him.
In past elections, he has tried humility and has tried umbrage. Neither worked. This time, he’s touting experience, saying he’ll use his connections and years in politics to fight for a district that has seen home values plummet and not come back.
He’ll focus on DeKalb’s “good old days,” on balanced budgets, new libraries, senior citizen centers and increased green space.
He’ll avoid discussing how a federal lawsuit found that his administration discriminated against white employees. Or how it cost DeKalb millions in attorneys’ fees. Or how a special grand jury in 2013 recommended investigating Jones for possible bid-rigging.
No charges have ever been brought against him, and he insists he is a victim of perpetual witch hunting.
Even his supporters are quick to note Vernon’s baggage.
Ruben Burch, a retired Navy man who has a striking resemblance to the former Mr. CEO, has seen Jones around and likes that he has a burning hunger to return.
“He didn’t do anything worse than anyone else in DeKalb,” said Burch. “He’s got experience. He’ll mix it up. Get him IN there. Can’t do anything worse than the people we got in there now.”
Now THERE’s your slogan: “Vernon! Can’t do anything worse than those there now!”
Former sheriff Tom Brown is backing Charles Hill, a young Harvard-educated son of a DeKalb doctor. Brown is impressed by Hill and said he provides a fresh face. But, he acknowledged that Jones has his best shot of winning since leaving the CEO seat, because a state House seat is relatively obscure and there is no incumbent.
“If he’s going to make a last stand, then here’s the place,” Brown said.
Jones’ return has caused a stir. Viola Davis, a nurse who runs a DeKalb watchdog org, got many phone calls when he first qualified to run.
“People were like, ‘Do you know anyone who will run against him? No one is running against him,’ ” she recalled with a laugh. “Like I’m supposed to go out looking for people to run against Vernon Jones.”
Then her mother, who lives with Davis, walked in the house carrying a Vernon Jones yard sign. “I said, ‘We can’t have that!’”
Davis said her mother had previously split with Jones, once chewing him out, but has embraced him.
Community activist Josie Dean, who also once fell out with Jones, now has a Vernon sign out front.
“This is his last chance; it’s make-it-or-break-it time,” Dean said. “This is where he started from. He’s starting at the bottom and picking himself up.”
She likes his experience. “Vernon is the only one who’ll go toe-to-toe with the Republicans. He’s the only one who hasn’t gone to jail here. They can’t find anything on him. He just comes out smelling like a rose.
“We don’t need no Boy Scout, ” she said, summing up what she likes about her candidate, “we need a Boy Scout Ranger!”
Now there's your slogan: "Vernon! He's no Boy Scout."
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