Seven candidates ultimately qualified in the race to succeed south Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid. Two emerged from the June 9 primary with clear leads over their competitors: Businesswoman Shelia Edwards and real estate agent Monique Sheffield.
It all came down to the candidates’ networks, said Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chair of the Cobb Democratic Party.
“You can’t just build those networks from, what was it, March 6th or March 9th, from the qualifying point until election day,” she said. “You can’t just flip the switch. You have to have done some work for a year, two years, several years ahead of that to position yourself to be successful.”
Edwards and Sheffield each earned almost a quarter of the 31,000 votes cast in the race, and are now headed to an Aug. 11 runoff that will determine who will be the next person to represent Cobb’s Democratic stronghold on the county’s governing board.
Edwards edged Sheffield with 7,705 votes to the latter’s 6,959. Tenants’ rights activist Monica Delancy came in third, with 4,878 votes, well ahead of the remaining four challengers.
Delancy, casting herself as the candidate of the grassroots, said she was held back by a lack of funds.
“I believe I accomplished a great deal,” she said, adding that the outcome would have been different had she been able to self-fund or raise money as her competitors had.
Bettadapur said Delancy is a well-known and respected activist who had a good showing, but reports late last year that she was fighting an eviction may have given voters pause.
In fourth was recent college graduate Edwin Mendez, who lagged behind some of his more successful competitors in raising money and, despite support from the district’s Latino community, failed to make inroads among African American residents, Bettadapur said.
Angelia Pressley earned the fifth most votes and ran on a platform of rebranding south Cobb as a center of sustainable and cutting edge industries.
Attorney Jonathan Hunt came in sixth. Despite his impressive resume, Bettadapur said, he had not been as active in the community and couldn’t rely on the same network as his competitors.
Elliot Hennington came in last place despite raising more than $32,000, the most of any candidate in the race. Although he is a member of the Austell Community Task Force, “I just don’t know how vigorous of a campaign he ran,” Bettadapur said.
Edwards was not far behind: She raised $27,316, the second most of any candidate, with donations from community activists Ben Williams, of the SCLC and Denny Wilson.
Sheffield raised $21,245. Among her notable donations was $101 from Galt Porter, chair of the Cobb County Planning Commission, and $1,000 from the Sams, Larkin and Huff law firm. Garvis Sams, one of the firm’s attorneys, is a fixture at zoning hearings.
In an interview Thursday, Sheffield said voters had likely supported her because of her experience on the Board of Zoning Appeals, a position she was appointed to by Cupid. Zoning is one of the primary responsibilities of a county commissioner, she said.
“I’ve had an opportunity to build relationships with county staff and community stakeholders, so that gives me a three year head start,” she said. “There will not be a learning curve.”
Edwards attributed her success to her advocacy in the community.
“I think that I did so well because I had a story to tell of working in the community,” she said. “I was able to make voters aware — who weren’t aware — of the work I’ve been doing for years to improve our quality of life.
She cited her opposition earlier in the decade to the placement of a waste transfer station in south Cobb and her pushing for the redevelopment of the area’s Magnolia Crossing property, which she believes has transformative potential.
Indeed, Edwards won the precincts surrounding and south of Mableton. Sheffield won precincts on the district’s periphery, including those in Powder Springs and Smyrna.
Sheffield said she had made an effort to reach out to every part of the district. Her support from the district’s western precincts may have come from having spent 13 of her 20 years in the district in Powder Springs, she added.
Cupid said it was no surprise to see Edwards and Sheffield rise to the top, given the former’s name recognition from past runs for office and work in the community, and the latter’s work on the BZA and other community organizations.
The commissioner, who is challenging Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce in November’s general election, said she plans on endorsing a candidate ahead of the Aug. 11 runoff, and is weighing how to do so. She declined to say whether she had already decided who to endorse.
Before the primary, Cupid posted a voter guide of sorts to her Facebook page detailing the attributes of each candidate.
Sheffield took Cupid’s words in the post as a tacit endorsement. And, according to Bettadapur, Cupid was the one who had asked Sheffield to run.