Norwood Runs for Fulton County Chairperson as an Independent
(APN) ATLANTA — Former Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who was only a few hundred votes short of being elected Mayor of Atlanta last year, has launched a campaign to become Chairperson of Fulton County.
Norwood will be challenging current Chairman, John Eaves, as an independent, which will require her to obtain at least 22,000 signatures, or the 5% of the registered voters in Fulton County, by the end of June 2010, to get on the ballot in November’s General Election.
“The issues I’ve dealt with–taxes, the criminal justice system, property tax assessments, the elections process–a lot of what touches us deals with Fulton County,” Norwood told Atlanta Progressive News.
“We need to be attracting jobs to Fulton County,” Norwood said.
Independent is “the way I’d like to run. I always said I’m independent. I had supporters and contributors from the Democratic Party, from the Republican Party, and who have been independent.”
Norwood said she is confident she can win. “I need everybody to go to Facebook and download a copy of the petition form. We will prevail. If 500 people collect 50 signatures each,” Norwood said.
Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, and independent candidate Faye Coffield, who attempted to get on the ballot in 2008, however, said Norwood needs to consider many things if she wants to be successful.
For example, if people download the petition off of Facebook like Norwood is suggesting, but they don’t print it on 8.5 by 14 inch paper, the signatures can be disqualified. There are many other rules could present obstacles to Norwood.
“I have always been the reform candidate, fiscally conservative, socially responsible,” Norwood said. “Fulton County needs to do a better job of managing people’s money. We’re paying a lot of money, we need to do a better job of service delivery.”
“I’ve always been independent. I can unify the city better than anyone can,” Norwood said. “I have always wanted to serve where I thought I could make a difference, on the City Council for 8 years then running for Mayor.”
“I’m looking at the challenges facing us and it made sense to me to run as an independent to unify Fulton County, and bring about the changes needed to Fulton County, to bring about appropriate change and effective government,” Norwood said.
“We will be reaching out in South Fulton, North Fulton, and the people of Atlanta, to be representing all of them as Chair of Fulton County,” Norwood said.
Norwood has not yet organized a campaign, but she does have a volunteer in charge of the petition effort.
Norwood previously discussed the possibility of running for this seat with APN but asked the news agency not to share the information publicly until she was ready to announce.
CHAIRMAN EAVES READY TO FIGHT
“I’m gonna run hard and be prepared to debate the issues,” Eaves told APN upon Norwood’s re-entry into the race. “I’m going to defend my record and articulate a vision for the City.”
Eaves believes there is a “need to unite the County. During my first four years I’ve done a lot to reach out to constituents, municipalities.”
Eaves said he is concerned about “the Milton County issue. I can play an important role to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future.”
When asked whether he supports Norwood’s decision to run as an Independent, “I can’t control that. Anyone has a right to enter a race.”
“I’m a Democrat, I’m gonna run as a Democrat, but some decisions I’ve made policy-wise have been for the benefit of all the people,” Eaves said.
APN attended a wine and cheese fundraiser for John Eaves on March 31, 2010. At this fundraiser, Eaves made a speech in which he stated one of his three proudest accomplishments as Fulton County Chair was to support the privatization of Grady Hospital.
APN asked Eaves at the fundraiser if there was anything he was doing to look into the plight of the dialysis patients who lost their living-saving care after the privatized Grady closed its dialysis center and four patients have reportedly died so far.
Eaves said he was working with private dialysis clinics to see if each of them could take one of the uninsured patients. However, Dorothy Leone-Glasser of Grady Advocates for Responsible Care said she was not aware of Eaves’s effort or any oversight by Eaves related to the Grady dialysis situation.
APN asked Eaves today why he supported a privatization contract that did not include any enforcement mechanisms to ensure that the hospital continues to provide indigent care in line with its original mission.
“We as a County hold Grady accountable. We approve a budget every year and give that amount in quarterly payments. We ask that they cover indigents, number one. If Grady doesn’t use that toward Fulton County indigents, they would not get their full money appropriated to them,” Eaves said.
Eaves also added that the privatized Grady had been able to raise over 300 million dollars from private sources they would only have donated to Grady in a privatized form.
He said that he will run on his record, including the Grady issue, in his attempt to win re-election.
“I’m gonna put forth my best effort possible and the voters are gonna decide,” Eaves said.
One constituency that could come into play, particularly in Atlanta’s Midtown, is the GLBT community. Georgia Voice magazine asked Eaves if he supports same-sex marriages but he said he was not prepared to announce his position on the issue. Norwood, who has an openly homosexual step-daughter, received strong support from Atlanta’s sixth Council District during the Mayoral race, in part for her support for same-sex marriage.
In 2006, no Democrat had signed up to run for the Fulton County Chairman seat, when State Sen. Vincent Fort and Derrick Boazman asked Eaves to get into the race the night before the election.
Democrats worked hard to re-elect Eaves, including by unleashing a radio attack ad on the White, Republican candidate, Lee May, in an ad reminiscent of the Democratic Party of Georgia attack ads on Norwood during the 2009 Mayoral race.
“On November 7th  we face the most dangerous situation we ever have,” US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said in the advertisement. “If you think fighting off dogs and water hoses in the ’60s was bad, imagine if we sit idly by and let the right-wing Republicans take control of the Fulton County Commission.”
“The efforts of Martin and Coretta King, Hosea Williams, Maynard Jackson and many others will be lost,” then-Mayor Shirley Franklin said. “That’s why we must stand up and we must turn out the vote for the Democrats on Election Day.”
“And especially for John Eaves for Fulton County Commission chairman. Unless you want them to turn back the clock on equal rights and human rights and economic opportunity for all of us, vote for John Eaves as Fulton County chairman,” former Mayor Andrew Young said.
That advertisement upset many White residents in Atlanta’s Buckhead area, and was part of what fueled the movement for Buckhead to secede from the City of Atlanta; in addition, it led to calls from some residents in the predominantly White, North Fulton area to split off and form a Milton County.
Both of these proposed secessions are moves which Norwood does not support.
However, ironically, at least one Democrat who encouraged Eaves to run in 2006 and helped them get elected told APN that they regretted it because he was not progressive enough in their view, particularly on the Grady issue.
BALLOT ACCESS RESTRICTIONS
As previously reported by APN, Georgia has the most restrictive ballot access laws for independents and third party candidates in the nation.
Coffield, who attempted to obtain 15,000 signatures in a 2008 race against US Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), but only gained about 2,000, has challenged the State of Georgia in court, in a case that is currently being appealed to the federal court of appeals and may go to the Supreme Court of the US.
Coffield said she believes if anyone can get on the ballot as an independent in Georgia on a scale that large for the first time since 1964, it’s Norwood.
“We need to have at least three political parties so we don’t have the same foolishness we have now. I think it’s a good idea somebody with her stature is deciding to run as an independent,” Coffield said.
“People are so tied up with the Democratic and Republican party, that they’re just now realizing that neither party has the best interests of the people,” Coffield said.
“It’s hard to get the signatures,” Coffield said. “I don’t know why more people don’t get Richard Winger to help them.”
“They [the election’s office] refuse to give more than five petitions. We had to photocopy the rest. Each petition has to be signed by the person who collected the signatures, and notarized,” Coffield said.
“You’re talking about 3,000 pieces of paper to be notarized, 15 signatures per page,” Coffield said. That would be 45,000 signatures, and Coffield believes Norwood may need that many since many may be thrown out as invalid.
However, Winger said that he thought Norwood’s petitions would have more valid signatures as a County-wide candidate than as for someone running for a Congressional District, for the simple reason that many people don’t know what Congressional District they’re in, but most people know what County they’re in. So that may reduce some of the invalid signatures.
“We’re gonna be checking the signatures as they come in,” Norwood said.
Coffield believes the election is going to be tough and could turn ugly again. “You’re gonna have the Democratic Party of Georgia come out and do the little backstabbing ads they do,” Coffield said. “They’re going to do all kinds of interference on her.”
Coffield said she believes Norwood may be seen as a threat to the two-party monopoly in Georgia, in a state where most voters consider themselves as independent and one does not have to register by party.
“If people realize that independents can get on the ballot, Democrats and Republicans are doomed here. You can’t be independent if there’s no independent candidate to vote for, you’re really just neutral,” Coffield said.
“I wish Mary the best. It will be more expensive than to run as a Democrat. She’s got to get a notary on the payroll. They’ll have to have a place where they can bring the petitions,” Coffield said.
“It’s really thrilling. If she really does it, those County election officials, they’re gonna have a terrible time going through all that paperwork. Nobody ever does it, you see,” Winger said.
“This is wonderful. This is gonna help everybody in Georgia. She’s shaking up the system. I love her for it,” Winger said. “She’ll still need to hire some professionals.”
Winger warned of additional traps the Norwood campaign should beware of. “If a person who’s a notary on one petition, collects one signature, all their work gets thrown out,” Winger said.
“Why should it be notarized? All it does is run up the cost, it’s cruel,” Winger said.
When asked if Winger believes a Norwood victory would weaken the case for ballot access reform by making it seem easy to meet the requirements, he said the opposite has been true in other states.
“It always pays off when people succeed. Ironically the more people succeed, the easier it is to convince the legilsature to do it [change the law],” Winger said.
“They think it will be an atom bomb. They’re scared to death. The more people who do it, the more they realize it’s not so terrible. This is gonna be a breakthrough for your state,” Winger said. “It will help the movement if she makes it.”
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Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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