After a Contentious Year of Elections, Look to Local Races in 2021A mural at the Vote Tree event in Atlanta in 2021
Photo by Kelly Jordan
Municipal races key to mapping growth in your city
By Tammy Joyner
The big-money, high-stakes elections may be over but don’t shelve your voting obligations just yet. Some of the most crucial elections are just getting primed in the 60-plus cities and towns throughout the 10-county metro Atlanta region.
Who’s running your city? Who’s heading your local law enforcement agency? Who’s administering justice in your town?
Turning your attention from national affairs to more local issues is central to this year’s political races, which include a slew of elections for mayor, city council, school board and other municipal seats in metro Atlanta.
“They [voters] need to look at all these races just as closely as they did the state and federal races,” Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a grassroots nonpartisan, nonprofit founded by the late Rev. Joseph Lowery, told SaportaReport.
“People tend to get more interested in the national races but people should be more interested in their local elections because that affects them even more so,” Pat Pullar, a political consultant who lives in Ellenwood, Ga., said.
Local elections, which are held in odd-numbered years, traditionally see less voter turnout. As a result, a relatively small percentage of voters determine the trajectory of their towns.
“[These elections] deal with the smart growth of the development of their communities, transportation systems or lack thereof,” Pullar said. “Whether jobs come into your community, employers are going to relocate their companies to your community. Whether you have a skilled workforce to attract quality employers, that all comes down to who you elect to run your town or city.”
Last year’s protests over police brutality and other social ills helped contribute to the surge in voter turnout in the national elections. It’s unclear if that political energy will continue into this year. Local races, however, could be an effective way to address problems such as criminal justice reform.
“The municipal elections determine who gets appointed to be police chief, who’s elected sheriff,” Pullar noted.
This year’s local elections also will likely see a continuation of a more diverse slate of candidates, issues will become more progressive said Bill Crane, a political analyst and commentator.
Black, Latino and Asian Americans have been key to the growth of registered voters in Georgia since 2016, according to the Pew Research Center.
“City councils, municipal school boards that were [once] white will start to diversify,” Crane said, noting that places like Cherokee and Barrow are becoming more diverse, as are Douglas and Paulding.
“You’ll see some generational and demographic changes,” he added.
While the presidential and senate runoff races created unprecedented voter participation, “We need the same energy… that we had for the state runoff and the presidential election to beat back any bad legislation regarding our election process,” Pullar said. “Voters should care about that.”
Adds Butler: “It’s people knowing their power and knowing they can be change agents.
Here are a few races to watch in 2021:
ATLANTA MAYOR’S RACE
When: Nov. 2
Term: Four years
Georgia political junkies, this is the race to watch in 2021.
For a time, it was touch and go over whether Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms would stay in Georgia or ply her political fortunes inside The Beltway with the Biden Administration. Now that she has accepted a top job with the Democratic National Convention, Lance Bottoms can turn her full attention to sparring for a second term against what’s likely to be a host of political opponents.
“The hot race is the Atlanta mayor’s race and who’s going to jump into that race,” Pullar said.
“It’ll be a slugfest,” Crane predicted.
Because of Stacey Abrams’ work in getting Georgia voters to the polls in the presidential and senate runoff races, Crane said “A lot of the candidates will be seeking endorsements from Ms. Abrams.”
DISTRICT HOUSE 90 SPECIAL ELECTION
When: Feb. 9
The Georgia State House District 90, which includes parts of DeKalb, Henry and Rockdale counties, became vacant after Rep. Pamela Stephenson resigned from the post last September. The race should draw its share of candidates.
GRIFFIN DISTRICT ATTORNEY – SPECIAL ELECTION
When: Feb. 9
Runoff (if needed): March 9
The Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney post became vacant after The Honorable Ben Coker was appointed to the Superior Court of the Griffin Judicial Circuit. The Griffin District Attorney is responsible for judicial matters in parts of Fayette, Pike, Spalding and Upson counties.
Here’s a look at some other upcoming metro Atlanta elections:
JONESBORO (Clayton County)
3 city council seats
MARIETTA (Cobb County)
7 council seats ( elected by Ward)
7 board of education seats (elected by Ward)
DECATUR (DeKalb County)
District 1 Post A
District 2 Post A
School Board District 1 Post A
School Board District 2 Post A
Douglasville (Douglas County)
Ward 2, Post 1
Ward 3, Post 1
Ward 3, Post 2
For information about elections, dates and voter registration schedules in your city, contact your local elections board office.