The signs of the new season show up everywhere.
Brightly colored campaign placards dot yards. Slick fliers fill mailboxes. Freshly minted candidates – lots of them – walk suburban streets or show up at neighborhood gatherings in search of voters.
Something new has come to Brookhaven. Georgia’s youngest city is holding its first election.
“I’m starting to see signs pop up in yards,” Russ Arnett said. “It’s all happened so fast.”
Fast, indeed. Brookhaven’s voters approved creation of the new city on July 31. The new government opens for business Dec. 17.
In between, on Nov. 6, voters will cast their ballots for mayor and four council members. If no candidate gets more than half the votes in any of the districts and one or more runoffs are needed – which seems likely, given the number of candidates seeking some council seats – the runoffs are scheduled for Dec. 4.
Candidates for Brookhaven City Council
Mayor: Larry Danese, J. Max Davis, Sandy Murray
City Council District 1: Alan Cole, Michelle Conlon, Kevin D. Fitzpatrick Jr., Kevin Meaders, Rebecca Chase Williams
City Council District 2: Jim Eyre, Larry Hurst, Russell Mitchell
City Council District 3: Deborah Anthony, Hope Bawcom, Bates Mattison, Bridget O’Donnell, Ben Podgor, Kevin Quirk, Julia Russo, Gaye L. Stathis, Erik Steavens
City Council District 4: Joe Gebbia, Karen Lord, Kerry Witt
With the election weeks away, the two dozen candidates seeking elective office in the not-yet-open-for-business city are in full campaign mode. That has set off a lot of campaigning in the 12 square miles incorporated into Brookhaven. One of the four council seats – the District 3 seat – attracted nine candidates.
Arnett and about 70 of his neighbors spent the evening of Sept. 27 at Ashford Park Elementary School so they could listen to a debate among the three candidates running for the District 2 seat on the new Brookhaven City Council.
Sandy Murray, a candidate for mayor, said that as she’s campaigned door-to-door, she’s found some voters are confused about what comes next. But they’re eager to find out.
“I think there’s a great level of excitement about this whole thing,” Murray said. “People are very excited about the new city and they have great expectations.”
One curious component of the campaign appears to be that voters are interested in which side candidates took on the debate to create the city. City proponents carried the July 31 election with just 55 percent of the vote, so a substantial portion of community residents were opposed to the idea of the city at the start.
During the Ashford Park debate, for instance, the candidates were asked how they voted on creating the city. One candidate, Jim Eyre, publicly opposed starting the city. Another, Russell Mitchell, had been a board member of Brookhaven Yes, the group that campaigned in favor of the city. The third, Larry Hurst, described himself as “a reluctant yes vote.”
J. Max Davis, the former head of Brookhaven Yes and now a candidate for mayor, said talking to voters on their doorstep often leads to discussions about how they voted. But he said he believes the debate is less contentious now.
“I find people with no problem telling me they voted ‘no’ with my sign in their yard,” Davis said. “I’m finding a lot more unity, a lot more optimism about what we can do now that we have a city. I’m very, very excited about the fact that most people just want Brookhaven to succeed, whether they were for it or against it.”
Larry Danese, who is also running for mayor, said he spends a lot of time on the campaign trail answering questions for voters. Because Brookhaven will be a brand new city, people still have a lot of questions about how it will operate.
“There is a lot of explaining you want to do. You really need to be as objective and straightforward as you possibly can,” Danese said. “Not as many people participated in the city referendum as could have and so consequently you now have people that are wondering, well what exactly did we do?”
And candidate Thom Shepard said he is spending a lot of his time trying to understand how the new city should operate. “I’m spending a lot of time on this other stuff that I should be spending on my campaign,” said Shephard, who announced Oct. 3 that he had decided to drop out of the race.
Other new cities had more time to organize themselves and to interview potential contractors for city services, he said. The people pulling Brookhaven together must make a lot of decisions in a very short time and Shepard said he found himself spending time going to meetings to understand the choices to be made. “How do I go about my candidacy for mayor with a blindfold on?” he asked.
On Sept. 24, Brookhaven’s candidates got an introduction to the way the neighboring city of Dunwoody does business.
City Council candidates and members of the Governor’s Commission on Brookhaven met with Dunwoody City Manager Warren Hutmacher, Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan, Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis and other city officials to learn how the north DeKalb city, incorporated in 2008, operates today.
“In many regards, the issues faced by Dunwoody between its incorporation in 2008 and today are the same issues Brookhaven will be facing from today until four years from now,” said Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, who, along with Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, organized the gathering. “When it comes right down to it, the closest analog to the future city of Brookhaven is Dunwoody.”
For now, Brookhaven is working on choosing its own slate of city officials.
After all, there’s a first time for everything.
Reporter plans public meetings with candidates
The Brookhaven Reporter will host a pair of public gatherings at which voters will be able to meet candidates for office in the new city of Brookhaven.
The first forum is scheduled for Oct. 15 at Oglethorpe University. Candidates for mayor will speak and answer questions. It starts at 7 p.m.
A “meet-the-candidates” session for City Council will be held Oct.30 at the Briarwood Park recreation center at 7 p.m.