By John Ruch
Election Day brought more bad news for the Buckhead cityhood movement, as its endorsed local candidates all lost and the neighborhood continued voting blue in major races.
The Republican-based campaign may have a glimmer of revival hopes in the next Georgia General Assembly session after some GOP wins and shake-ups elsewhere. But winning a local referendum looks unlikely, especially as even local Republican voters show weaker support for the Trump-style politics that have thus far characterized cityhood tactics.
The Buckhead City Committee (BCC), the group advocating cityhood, endorsed five local candidates — all Republicans who lost to Democrats. Among them were BCC President Sam Lenaeus, defeated in Georgia House District 55 by Igna Willis, and Christian Zimm, the group’s communications VP, who lost an impossible challenge to 5th District Congresswoman Nikema Williams, the chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia.
BCC endorsees Fred Glass in Georgia Senate District 6 and John Bailey in House District 54, both lost to prominent cityhood opponents: respectively, Jason Esteves and Rep. Betsy Holland. The BCC also endorsed Wendy Ahrenkiel in House District 52 in neighboring parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs; she lost to Democratic incumbent Shea Roberts.
One bright spot for the GOP was adding a sole Republican to the formerly all-Democratic General Assembly representation. Deborah Silcox – who once held the District 52 seat – won in a House District 53 newly redrawn after the 2020 Census that favors Republicans by running through wealthy neighborhoods from central Buckhead to Johns Creek. However, she did not campaign on cityhood. And the Congressional and most other local General Assembly redistricts were redrawn in a way that essentially cedes control to Democrats.
2022 General Election
The GOP also lost a respected Republican on the Fulton County Commission: Buckhead resident Lee Morris, who has served two terms in the local District 3 seat and previously held North Buckhead’s District 7 Atlanta City Council seat. He was booted by Democrat Dana Barrett after barely breaking even in Buckhead’s vote in a district that includes Democrat-majority areas of Midtown, Virginia-Highland and Sandy Springs.
In ticket-topping races, Buckhead continued to vote reliably blue. Democrat Stacey Abrams, as she did in 2018, again beat Republican Brian Kemp in Buckhead’s vote for governor, this time with 52.3 percent. Democrat Raphael Warnock, the incumbent U.S. senator, trounced Republican challenger Herschel Walker in the neighborhood, 61 percent to 36.8 percent. (For detailed maps, click here.) Statewide, Kemp won and Warnock did not get past the 50 percent-plus-1 mark needed to avoid a runoff with Walker.
Split-ticket voting or ballot-blanking were evident in Buckhead’s Republican-heavy western areas with Trumpian politics apparently continuing to be a factor. Kemp, a relative moderate who warred with Trump over election fraud conspiracies, won handily in such areas. Walker, strongly endorsed by Trump, barely inched past 50 percent or even lost in some of those areas.
Cityhood legislation was essentially blocked earlier this year by two Republican officials in the wake of offensive commentary from its leader: Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge). Duncan did not run for re-election and, in a win for the BCC, its strong supporter and endorsee, state Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), won the lieutenant governor job. And Ralston recently made a surprise announcement that he will not seek another term as speaker, opening the possibility of a more populist or farther-right replacement, though candidates continue jockeying.
It appears any cityhood legislation would be opposed by at least the majority of the local delegation, and it ultimately would require a local referendum that seems unlikely to pass as a literally divisive Republican-backed effort to split from Democrat-led Atlanta.
Maps by Maggie Lee. Data source: Georgia Secretary of State, unofficial results with all precincts reporting, Nov. 10, 2022.