Nine vie for Fulton County commission seat once held by Emma Darnell

Nine candidates are on the ballot for a special election in Fulton County on Tuesday. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC) AJC FILE PHOTO
Nine candidates are on the ballot for a special election in Fulton County on Tuesday. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC) AJC FILE PHOTO

The race to replace Emma Darnell on the Fulton County commission is a fierce one.

Nine candidates are vying to represent District 6, an area largely south of I-20 that covers all or parts of nine cities and unincorporated Fulton. Many are invoking Darnell, who died last spring after 27 years on the commission, as a friend and neighbor.

But each candidate, if elected, has their own thoughts about what needs to happen in the community. The election is Tuesday.

At community forums, and while knocking on doors, they've made their case to voters like Chevon Jackson. The city of South Fulton resident said he was undecided after attending an August debate.

“Some people talk about fighting for the community,” Jackson said. “It can’t be all about fighting. You have to be able to compromise.”

Khadijah Abdur-Rahman, 55, said she hopes to be part of a county commission that's a "broad, collaborative board and works together for the common good."

Abdur-Rahman has a telemarketing company that she’s taking leave from to run her campaign. She touts economic quality, not just economic development, and wants to improve restaurant, entertainment and grocery store options.

She’d like to expand a county program that helps seniors get home repairs so they can age in place. The Atlanta resident wants harsher penalties for gang violence and for adults who coerce juveniles to commit crimes. Abdur-Rahman said she wants to expand transit, but would want to make sure it would be used.

“We don’t need to waste any taxpayers’ funds,” she said. “We’re stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”

Real estate broker Yoshina Colbert Bradford, 37, said she's interested in smart development. The city of South Fulton resident said she's worried about the number of trucks and warehouses on the county's southside.

She’s pushing for more recycling options and reducing the county’s carbon footprint, as well as making pedestrian improvements. She said she wants to study transit, to see what the best option is for the future.

“I’m tired of the same elected officials,” Bradford said. “It’s time for new leaders with new experience.”

Health care, including solving mental health challenges for seniors and inmates at the Fulton jail, are central to Bradford’s campaign.

Joe Carn, 48, who left his job in the Fulton solicitor's office earlier this summer, lost re-election to the College Park City Council by just two votes in 2017.

Carn said in a forum this summer that he wants to streamline the court system, keep residential property taxes from rising and improve senior services.

Carn did not respond to multiple requests from the AJC for comment by presstime.

City of South Fulton resident Carl W. Dorsey Jr., 50, said he's running for county commission because he doesn't want to be on the sidelines.

“I’m concerned about where we’re going,” he said. “I want to be involved.”

Dorsey, a music producer, called himself a champion of entrepreneurship and said he would be honest, open and truthful, if elected. He said he wants the district to be a place where families thrive.

He’s interested in improving economic development and public safety, but didn’t provide specific proposals to recruit new businesses or reduce crime.

Dorsey said he needed more information to decide if transit was right for the south part of the county. He said he didn't want to give his opinion about whether South Fulton, which sued the county to get an amphitheater, arts centers and other buildings, should win that battle.

“I will be on the side of right,” he said.

The only Republican in the race, Sonia Frances-Rolle, said senior and youth programs are her priorities. She wants to make sure youth have job skills and expand transportation options for seniors. She said while there are many pressing issues in the county, it's most important to provide for the old and the young.

Frances-Rolle, 63, said she wants to build workforce capacity and improve economic development options. The county and the district need a long-term plan, she said.

“If there are problems getting things done on this side of town, we need to find out why,” said Frances-Rolle, an educational consultant and city of South Fulton resident.

Sojourner Marable Grimmett, 40, is a former director of constituent services in former Fulton chairman John Eaves' administration. She now works for an affordable senior housing nonprofit.

Her rivals criticized her for using an image of Darnell in her campaign materials, something Grimmett called "dirty politics." After Darnell's death, Grimmett said she felt called to serve, and that Darnell had supported her in several initiatives.

Grimmett, who lives in the city of South Fulton, said her priorities include expanding youth and senior services, improving community health, boosting economic development and ensuring that the neighborhoods and communities in the district are strong. She wants to ensure seniors can age in place if they want to, expand the summer job program for youths to make it year-round, push for clean air and water and upgrade health centers. She also wants to bring more high-tech jobs to the area, and ensure smart growth.

“You still see disparities in south Fulton,” she said. “You need a strong leader to raise concerns.”

A retired retail sales manager, Warren C. Head Jr., 60, said he got into the race because he didn't feel residents were getting enough representation for what commissioners were getting paid.

“Once they’re in office, they forget about us,” he said. “These people need to be responsive.”

The Atlanta resident said he will ensure residents’ voices are heard on all topics.

Head said he wants to expand the tax base to lessen the burden on residents. He said he thinks the Fulton Industrial area should be divided between the cities of Atlanta and South Fulton. He said he is in favor of South Fulton getting Wolf Creek amphitheater and the Tom Lowe shooting range from the county, but not the libraries it has requested. He'd like to see more transit on the south side.

Rafer Johnson, 52, said economic development is the key to fixing issues on the county's south side. He said economic improvements will improve the quality of life in the area. He's also interested in environmental improvements and expanding infrastructure.

Johnson, who works for Delta Air Lines, was involved in the campaign to create the city of South Fulton, where he lives. He said he can bring a progressive, business-minded point of view to the position.

Johnson, who is gay, said he thought it was important to have diversity represented on the board. There has been no LGBTQ representation on the board of commissioners since Joan Garner died in 2017.

“I’ll make sure everybody has a voice at the table,” he said. “I can stand up for and understand when other people are being oppressed.”

Gordon L. Joyner, 69, served on the Fulton County commission from 1987-1998. He said he's best qualified to be in county government because he understands the responsibilities of the position.

Joyner, a lawyer who lives in Atlanta, said the commission needs to act as a convener of the cities, as well as work on economic development and health and human services issues. The district needs a new senior center, he said.

Joyner thinks the Fulton Industrial area should go to the city of South Fulton and said he is a big advocate of mass transit. He said he’d like the county to have a fully functional civil rights department — the county currently has an office of diversity and civil rights compliance. Fulton has just scratched the surface of its potential, he said.

“There’s no reason why south [Fulton] county could not be and should not be the Silicon Valley of the United States,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a bunch of warehouses or call centers.”