By Saba Long
While he certainly has the physical stature of a sheriff, Thomas Brown has the demeanor of a larger-than-life politician — the kind that kisses babies and gives you a bear hug upon first meeting you.
We recently met over breakfast in Virginia-Highlands where we happened to be seated next to U.S. Senate candidate Michele Nunn, her father, former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, and other campaign advisors.
As I observed the two conversing, the point was not lost on me that these two could possibly be the next U.S. Senator and U.S. Congressman elected in Georgia.
My first interaction with DeKalb Sheriff Thomas Brown was during the 2012 regional transportation referendum. As the top vote getter in the county, the pro-campaign lobbied for and eventually earned his support, but not without having to answer tough questions regarding DeKalb’s share of the T-SPLOST pot.
While he has certainly won the hearts of DeKalb’s voters – he has consistently won re-election with 80-plus percent of the vote – Brown’s career in government began with the Atlanta Fire Department during the Maynard Jackson administration. From there, he went on to become Deputy Fire Chief.
Not long after, he found himself interviewing with both Atlanta and DeKalb County for the head position. In Atlanta, he was interviewed by Shirley Franklin and in DeKalb with CEO Manuel Maloof.
After four years as Fire Chief for the county, he then went on to serve as public safety director for 10 years during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic.
In 2001, Thomas Brown was elected sheriff of DeKalb County with 87 percent of the vote in a special election held months after Sidney Dorsey assassinated Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown.
Breaking the mold of a typical sheriff, Brown has constantly weighed in, privately and publicly, on county business. On the current state of the DeKalb Board of Education, he noted, “We have a good school board and I hope they offer themselves for reelection. There’s a fresh air and calmness to the district.”
He called interim County CEO Lee May a “friend and frat brother” and remarked the “perception of the leadership of county government must change.”
Perhaps perception is also why he has formed an exploratory committee to challenge U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D – Georgia).
“The question isn’t about if the Fourth District supports the President,” Brown said. “We need a clear, articulate voice back at home.”
On the challenge of unseating an incumbent, he calmly remarked that the current Congressman came into office by doing just that when Johnson beat Cynthia McKinney in a run-off in 2006.
While Sheriff Brown has dominated in DeKalb elections, he will have to draw significant votes from the rest of the district including Rockdale and parts of Gwinnett and Newton counties.
Hoping to make a decision to run by the end of September, Brown and the exploratory committee members will continue to poll voters and meet with stakeholders and supporters.
“If it doesn’t make political sense, I will continue to serve in my role as sheriff,” Brown said. “DeKalb County has been good to my family and me.”