Fayetteville ousts transportation proponent, elects first black city council member

Fayetteville voters took an anti-incumbent stance on Tuesday by ousting its longtime mayor and in electing the first African-American to the city council.

Out: Mayor Ken Steele, who lost his bid for a fourth term. In: New Councilman Ed Johnson, pastor of the county's oldest black church, Flat Rock AME.

Steele lost to Greg Clifton, with voters registering their displeasure over a number of local issues supported by the mayor, among them a controversial road project and regional transportation plan. Steele, the county representative on the regional round table, carried a lot of influence. He was past president of the Georgia Municipal Authority. He sat on numerous regional and state boards. It couldn't prevent him from being unseated.

"There’s a strong anti-incumbent wave that's been going on since 2006 and it's not done yet," said Clifton, 56, son of a former Fayetteville city councilman. "It's abundantly clear that the citizenry are not happy with the way things have been run. A lot people told me it was time for a change."

Steele declined to talk about the election results except to say, "I wish the city well."

Johnson, 56, a retired naval commander and past president of the local NAACP, was elected at the expense of another incumbent, Wilson Price. Johnson swept into office with the help of the county tea party. He is believed to be only the second black to hold office in Fayette County. He also is the senior naval science instructor at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Lithonia.

"I felt it was important to have somebody on the Fayetteville City Council who was accountable and transparent because I didn't feel the current board was doing that," said Johnson, who holds a masters degree in strategic planning from the U.S. Navy War College. He said his degree gave him the leadership background needed to serve on the council.

Johnson soundly defeated Price by capturing 61 percent of the votes. His election victory came as the county opposes an NAACP lawsuit that alleges its at-large voting process has kept blacks from serving on the county commission and the school board. No blacks have held positions on those boards.

"Ed Johnson is a shining example that, yes, an African-American can not only win, but they can also get very conservative support; he had a lot of tea party members backing him," county commissioner Steve Brown said. "His character is just such that everybody respects the man across the board. He's a solid guy."

Brown declined to discuss the NAACP lawsuit, because he's a defendant, but he noted Tuesday's election provided an "interesting twist" to the legal proceeding.

Clifton and Johnson said they want to do more to promote small business. Clifton noted that Fayetteville has a 30-percent vacancy rate in its commercial space. Both men are opposed to the regional transportation plan, one that calls for a penny tax over the next decade to fund an assortment of projects.

"There needs to be an in-depth analysis conducted to determine the impact on Fayetteville," Clifton said. "While it claims it will ease congestion, I'm not 100 percent sure that it does."

In another council race among newcomers, Mickey J. Edwards won Post 2, receiving 53 percent of the vote and beating Cathy Cochran.