Joan Garner will be the first openly gay member of the Fulton County Commission, after the eighth time didn’t prove to be the charm for Keisha Waites, who faced off with Garner in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff for Fulton County District 6.
With 100 percent reporting, unofficial results from the Fulton County Board of Registration & Elections show Garner with 2,695 votes, or 64.49 percent, to Waites’ 1,484 votes, or 35.51 percent.
Because no Republican or independent candidates qualified for the ballot, today’s runoff effectively decides who takes the seat.
Garner claimed victory shortly after 10:30 p.m. Tuesday in remarks to supporters gathered at Manuel’s Tavern.
“We have a lot of work to do. Thank you!” Garner said to cheers from the crowd.
In a press release sent shortly after midnight, Garner reminded supporters that they still need to vote for her in the Nov. 2 general election to make the win official.
“I am both humbled and honored that my friends and neighbors in District 6 gave me their vote of confidence,” Garner said. “I look forward to serving as their voice in the Fulton County government.”
Garner noted that she plans to continue meeting with “people and organizations across the district” and said that serving on the county commission “will allow me to even better support the communities in which I so strongly believe.”
“I entered this race to ensue that this diverse community continues to prosper,” she said, “and that it does so with the active participation of people from all walks of life, across District 6 and beyond.”
Both Garner and Waites are African-American lesbians, but the LGBT vote did not seem to be split. While Waites won the endorsement of the Atlanta Eagle, after helping the sister of one of the gay bar’s owners, Garner had the solid support of all three LGBT political groups that made endorsements in the race: Georgia Equality, Atlanta Stonewall Democrats and the Victory Fund, a national group that backs qualified LGBT candidates.
During the July 20 Democratic primary for the District 6 seat, Waites placed first in a field of four with 3,576 votes, or 41.46 percent, with Garner in second with 3,408 votes, or 39.14 percent, according to official Fulton County Elections results.
Only 168 votes separated Waites and Garner, who advanced to the runoff because neither received more than 50 percent of the vote. David Holder received 837 votes, or 9.7 percent. Sally Smith finished last with 807 votes, or 9.55 percent. For the runoff, Holder endorsed Waites and Smith endorsed Garner.
This was Garner’s first bid for public office after spending decades as an activist and volunteer on numerous LGBT, progressive, neighborhood and other causes. A longtime activist and philanthropy expert who worked for Mayor Maynard Jackson as senior adviser on gay and lesbian issues, she is principal of Garner Results Inc., a nonprofit and philanthropic consulting firm.
Her previous roles include president and CEO of the Historic District Development Corporation, a nonprofit that works to preserve the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District and other areas; serving as chair of Neighborhood Planning Unit-M in 2009; and serving as executive director of the Southern Partners Fund and the Fund for Southern Communities, among others.
Waites works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She previously worked for the Small Business Association. Her community involvement includes past service on the Fulton County Democratic Party Executive Committee, as an Atlanta Leadership Institute graduate, and on the board of the Georgia Stonewall Democrats in 2001, among others.
She has a long record of seeking elected office. In 2001, Waites ran for the at-large Post 1 seat on the Atlanta City Council. In 2002, she ran for State Senate District 36. In 2004, she was one of four candidates who applied to temporarily fill the Atlanta City Council District 12 seat, but council members did not pick her for post.
Waites then ran for the Atlanta City Council in 2005 and ran for Fulton County Commission chair in 2006. She ran for State House District 61 in 2008 and received the endorsement of Georgia Equality in that race, where she reached the runoff. Waites again ran for Atlanta City Council in 2009.
As the runoff neared, Waites used her Facebook page to accuse Garner of trying to tear down a gigantic banner of Waites hanging on the Atlanta Eagle.
A co-owner of the bar on Ponce de Leon Avenue confirmed today that the bar supported Waites, but said it was the wind – not “my opponent,” as Waites claimed – that caused a top corner of the sign to start to fall.
Handel concedes in GOP gubernatorial primary
The GOP gubernatorial primary was one of the most anti-gay races in recent Georgia history, and that didn’t change as Nathan Deal and Karen Handel battled it out in the runoff. In one of the most egregious examples, Deal released a campaign ad claiming Handel supported YouthPride, an Atlanta LGBT youth agency, which Deal claimed “promotes homosexuality” to children as young as 13.
Tuesday ended with the runoff too close to call, but Handel conceded late Wednesday morning.
Here’s an excerpt from the statement she sent to supporters, as reported by the AJC’s Political Insider:
We certainly have the option of requesting the automatic statewide recount. But we are not going to do that.
The best thing for our party is to rally around Congressman Deal as our nominee in the fight against Roy Barnes. Barnes would return Georgia to a past that is best kept in our rearview mirror. We must marshal all of our resources to defeat him.
I spoke with Nathan this morning and let him know that I endorse his candidacy and look forward to the fight against Barnes. I have also called on all who were supporting me to give their same commitment and energy to Nathan.
I thank the people of Georgia for the opportunity to serve them and for allowing me to interview for the job of Governor. This was an amazing journey, and the friendships that Steve and I made enriched our lives immeasurably. I look forward to finding a way to serve this great state in the future.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial results from the Georgia Secretary of State’s website showed Deal with 50.2 percent of the vote, or 290,580 votes, compared to 49.8 percent, or 288,091 votes for Handel. Only 2,489 votes separated the two candidates out of 579,036 votes cast.
Deal, a former congressman, had repeatedly attacked Handel, former Georgia secretary of state, for her membership in the pro-gay Log Cabin Republicans and support for domestic partner benefits back when she was a candidate for the Fulton County Commission.
Handel has denied both since seeking state offices, including claiming that emails signed “fondly, Karen” and sent to the then-head of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans that voiced support for domestic partner benefits were written by her campaign staff without her knowledge. In the GOP gubernatorial primary, Handel went so far as to say she “would consider” legislation to ban gay adoptions.
In the July runoff, Handel placed first with 34.1 percent. Deal placed second with 22.9 percent of the vote. As a member of the U.S. House, he consistently received scores of zero on HRC’s Congressional report card for LGBT issues and has voted for a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
The winner of the Republican runoff will face former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, and John H. Monds, a Libertarian, on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Democratic runoff for secretary of state
Another race of particular interest to LGBT voters on Tuesday was the Democratic runoff for Secretary of State, where one candidate voted for the state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and the other voted against it.
Gail Buckner placed first in the primary with 35.1 percent. As a member of Georgia Senate, she voted for the state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Georganna Sinkfield placed second with 22.6 percent. As a member of the Georgia House, she voted against the state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and against a bill to prevent cities from requiring private businesses to offer domestic partner benefits to be eligible for city contracts.
In the runoff, Sinkfield cruised past Buckner. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial results from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office showed Sinkfield with 61.7 percent of the vote, comapred to 37.8 percent for Buckner.
Sinkfield will face Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, and Libertarian David Chastain on the November ballot.