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.
Garner bests Waites to become first out gay Fulton County commissioner
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. 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 Tuesday afternoon 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.