The District 9 commission race had, until last week, been one of the least exciting local races, with Ovita Thornton and Tommy Valentine declaring their mutual respect and pretty much everybody saying they’d be happy with either one. During an otherwise rather tedious forum at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church that featured 14 (!) candidates on stage at the same time and gave them about five minutes each to speak, battle rapper-turned-politician Valentine changed all that and showed he hasn’t forgotten how to start a good feud.
“Platforms matter. We built ours in September of 2016, and we’ve been campaigning consistently on those issues, including anti-discrimination, transportation, criminal justice reform, education and economic justice,” Valentine said. “However, it wasn’t until today that the other candidate in the race published their platform. And I want to say the following: If you’re a progressive, and you believe that the following things should be mentioned, you only have one choice in this race—our campaign. LGBTQIA is nowhere in the other candidate in my race’s platform. Fare-free transit is nowhere in that platform. Civil rights committee is nowhere in that platform. Living wage is nowhere in that platform. Rights of workers is nowhere in that platform. But you know what is? Support for the sheriff [who is working with ICE to detain undocumented immigrants at the jail for deportation]. Support for the sheriff. If you support civil rights in Athens, if you’re a progressive, there is one choice in this campaign. You need to support us. We are champions of the forgotten.”
How could anyone follow that? The last candidate to speak, Russell Edwards, broke the tension. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “Everybody have a wonderful night!”
Moderator Robert Finch, laughing, asked Thornton, “Are you all right?” She was—but she gave Valentine an earful after the forum ended. And rightly so: She’s been working for civil rights and progressive causes since before Valentine was born. Plus, he launched his broadside during his closing statement, ensuring she would have no chance to respond.
This is what passes for negative campaigning in Athens. It’s rare—too rare, in my opinion—for local candidates to openly criticize each other, even on issues like those Valentine brought up that are fair game. But voters need these kind of sharp-elbowed attacks to draw distinctions between the candidates, who in local races too often tend toward making vague feel-good statements for fear of offending anyone.
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