Two years ago, an Athens voter could have filled out a ballot in less time than it takes for Taco Stand to microwave a burrito. There was only one contested local race, for an open Clarke County Board of Education seat. Every incumbent went unchallenged.
This year couldn’t be more different. Almost every local office has at least two candidates running—including a few held by incumbents who haven’t been challenged in more than a decade.
The race to succeed term-limited Mayor Nancy Denson is surprisingly small. The rumor mill had as many as eight people running, but in the end only three actually put their names on the ballot during last week’s qualifying period: Commissioner Kelly Girtz, former commissioner Harry Sims and marketing firm owner Richie Knight. Most notably, 21-year-old tea partier-turned-progressive Antwon Stephens fell ill last week and did not qualify (although an agent could have qualified for him). Flagpole wishes him a speedy recovery and presumes that the unspent portion of the $100,000 he supposedly raised will be returned to donors.
In Commission District 1, Patrick Davenport will challenge incumbent Sharyn Dickerson. In District 2, where Sims resigned to run for mayor, Mariah Parker will face Taylor Pass. In District 3, Tony Eubanks is challenging incumbent Melissa Link. In District 5, Commissioner Jared Bailey faces challenges from Danielle Benson and Tim Denson. In District 7, insurance salesman Carl Blount is a late addition to the race, joining Bill Overend and Russell Edwards. In Girtz’s District 9, Tommy Valentine faces school board member Ovita Thornton.
Tawana Smith Mattox is the lone candidate for Thornton’s District 9 BOE seat. Districts 1 and 3 representatives Greg Davis and Linda Davis (no relation) are unopposed. Sarah Ellis is leaving her District 5 seat, and Imani Scott-Blackwell and Kara Dyckman are vying to replace her. In District 7, incumbent Carol S. Williams will face LaKeisha Gantt.
Superior Court judges Eric Norris and Regina Quick (the former state representative appointed last August) both have challengers: Allison Mauldin, who’s married to District Attorney Ken Mauldin and is a prosecutor in a different circuit, and public defender Lisa Lott, respectively.
Republicans Marcus Wiedower and Steven Strickland, both handily dispatched by state Rep. Jonathan Wallace (D-Watkinsville) in a special election last November, are competing for another crack at Wallace this November. Congressman Jody Hice, the Greensboro Republican who represents most of Athens, faces primary challenges from Joe Hunt and Bradley Griffin; the Democratic primary includes Richard Dien Winfield, Chalis Montgomery and newcomer Tabitha A. Johnson-Green.
Partisan primaries and local nonpartisan elections will be held May 22. Looking ahead to November, state Rep. Deborah Gonzalez (D-Athens) will have a rematch with Republican Houston Gaines. Marisue Hilliard, a retired forester and gun-control advocate, stepped up at the last minute to run against Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), who’s been virtually unopposed since 2010. Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) also has a Democratic challenger for the first time since he was elected in 2010, Barrow County nurse Dawn Johnson.
Look for more in-depth articles about each of these races over the next nine weeks.
Publisher Scot Morrissey Leaves the ABH
Athens Banner-Herald publisher Scot Morrissey is leaving the paper at the end of this month, the ABH reported last week. Oddly, the article did not say where he’s going, only that he’s joining “a regional media company outside the Athens area,” but the Georgia Press Bulletin reports he’s set to become publisher of the Albany Herald.
Morrissey and his bosses at Morris Publishing Group gutted the ABH, sold off the printing press, slashed the size of the staff by two-thirds, moved the copy desk to Augusta, coddled racist commenters and all but abandoned investigative reporting and coverage of local government in favor of a digital strategy based around photos of sorority girls taken by unpaid photographers. Yet as his staff dwindled to next to nothing, the corporate hatchet man remained, a publisher without much to publish.
Morris sold most of its publications to New York-based GateHouse Media last year. It’s unknown whether that factored into Morrissey’s departure, but other Morris publishers are leaving GateHouse, including former ABH editor Les Simpson at the Amarillo Globe-News. In any case, GateHouse has invested zilch in quality journalism, so don’t expect any improvement under a new publisher.
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