Two distinct styles and approaches to civic engagement were seen in the two candidate forums that occurred at the same time Thursday night.
The atmosphere was festive Thursday night at Marshalls Sports Bar as several of Rockdale’s Democratic candidates gathered for an evening of networking and campaigning.
Four candidates fielded questions from a moderator but debating was out of the question as the Newsmakers Live event coincided with a Southern Christian Leadership Conference forum scheduled for the same time.
Rockdale County Commission Chairman Richard Oden, Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt, Superior Court Clerk Ruth Wilson and sheriff candidate Eric Levett — all Democratic candidates — each took the stage for a 15-minute session moderated by Shelley Wynter of Atlanta. Earlier in the evening, Republicans Jason Hill, candidate for Commission Chair, and Holly Bowie, candidate for Clerk of Superior Court, stopped in along with Sheriff Jeff Wigington to mingle with the crowd before heading to the SCLC forum. Earlier this week, Newsmakers Live organizers expressed disappointment with the lack of Republican candidate participation and issued the following statement via email:
“We regret that the Republican candidates have as it appears collectively decided that the ‘Newsmakers’ Live audience is unimportant and lacks any value in their election to public office as they have all either declined or failed to respond. What does this really mean to you the voters of Rockdale County???”
Event organizer Jim Welcome said all candidates were invited to attend and several who did said they were not aware of the SCLC forum being held at the same time. Many of the candidates seeking election on Nov. 6 did attend the SCLC forum.
As the SCLC forum wrapped up, several candidates trickled in to Marshall’s and took an opportunity to address the growing crowd with Democratic Probate Judge candidate Charles Mays and Democratic Magistrate Judge candidate Phinia Aten briefly taking the stage.
Welcome said to the audience, as the evening wrapped, “The ones who did not care about you did not show up. Your vote should go to the people who care about you.”
The forum organized by the Rockdale-Newton Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and hosted at Grace Fellowship Christian Church adhered to the ideals of the Civil Rights era.
In an impromptu history lesson, State SCLC President Rev. Samuel Mosteller outlined the path to suffrage for African Americans and women, from the Constitution’s formation to today. He also highlighted the influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on society today.
“It is your civic duty to vote,” said Mosteller. “The difference of voting or not voting is the difference of participating in your government.”
Candidates who were present to speak were: state Senate District 17 candidate Nelva Lee, Fourth Congressional District Republican candidate Chris Vaughn, Probate Court Judge candidates Republican and Judge Lillis Brown and Democrat Charles Mays, Clerk of Courts Republican candidate Holly Bowie, Republican Tax Commissioner Dan Ray, Coroner candidates Republican Jo Coggins, and Democratic candidate George Levett, Chief Magistrate Judge candidates Republican and Judge Rudy Horne and Democratic candidate Phinia Aten, Chairman candidates Democrat and incumbent Chairman Richard Oden and Jason Hill, and Post 1 Republican candidate Tom Harrison.
Democrats Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt Sr. and Sheriff candidate Eric Levett attended but left before their race came up. Another candidates forum, the “Newsmakers Live” event, was scheduled at the same time and many candidates were shuttling between the two.
Congressional Chris Vaughn said he decided to run because he was tired of the bickering.
Probate Judge Lillis Brown emphasized the efficiency of her office and the importance of family.
Probate candidate Charles Mays pointed out only 55 percent of people have a will and only 33 percent of African Americans.
Sheriff Jeff Wigington, who is running for his fifth term, commended his opponent Eric Levett but said the main differences were, “Experience. I do not want to have a chief deputy, he does… The second thing is a drug interdiction unit. I think they profile and I will not be a part of that.”
Coroner candidate Jo Coggins, a medical clerk at Rockdale Medical Center and a deputy coroner, said dryly, “Everyone's been talking about what they can do and fix. There's not much we can fix."
Coroner candidate George Levett, funeral director of Levett Funeral Home in Conyers and a deputy coroner, said the county needed to be prepared to handle more deaths as the population increased.
Magistrate Judge Rudy Horne went over his past professions and background.
Magistrate candidate Phinia Aten said, “I’m not going to bore you with the list of my experiences and qualifications,”and emphasized her community connections.
Chairman Richard Oden reviewed accomplishments in the water department, finance department and Neighborhood Stabilization Program. “I say forward ever. I’ve been hearing we’re going to go back. Go back where?”
Chairman candidate Jason Hill reviewed his deep community roots and accomplishments during his previous term as Post 1 Commissioner. “We’re all about moving forward. I think we can do that with better leadership than we are getting.”