Two challengers have unseated two longtime incumbents in Fulton County’s Democratic district attorney and sheriff races in the Aug. 11 primary runoff election.
With 100% of precincts reporting, Fani Willis won with 73.43% of the vote against incumbent District Attorney Paul Howard Jr., who has held the seat since 1997, and Pat Labat triumphed with 59.03% of the ballots versus incumbent Sheriff Ted Jackson, who has been in office since 2009 and served as interim sheriff in 2004. The winners of each race will be unopposed in November.
Willis led the primary with 42.27% and Howard had 34.78%, but third-place finisher Christian Wise Smith (22.95%) endorsed Howard. Willis and Smith previously worked for Howard in the DA’s office. Email messages left with Willis and Howard seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Howard has been dogged by an investigation by the state ethics commission and GBI for 12 possible violations for the extra pay he has received from the city of Atlanta since 2015 through the nonprofit People Partnering for Progress. Also, Howard has been sued by three former employees for sexual harassment and is under investigation by the GBI over subpoenas used in the Brooks case.
In the sheriff’s race, Jackson led the June 9 primary with 44.12%, but Labat may have picked up votes from supporters of Walter Calloway, Myron Freeman and Charles Rambo, the three primary candidates who didn’t advance to the runoff, since Freeman and Rambo said they backed his campaign.
Labat, who lost to Jackson in the 2008 primary and to Freeman in the 2004 primary, said the victory “feels great – especially after having run twice before and not winning.”
“But I don’t count those as losses – more like learning opportunities,” he said. “I’ve learned a great deal since that time, and I have never felt more ready for this next chapter. It’s an exciting time for Fulton County.”
Labat said the keys to victory were putting together a strong campaign team, including his wife as campaign manager, and listening to voters.
“Hearing their concerns and understanding what’s important to them and developing my platform from there” was important, he said. “As elected leaders and civil servants we all like to think we know what the issues are and how we feel about the issues, but that means nothing if we aren’t in tune with our constituents and how they feel.
“I’ve always tried to be accessible and relatable, and I wanted to convey that every step of the way through this campaign. I will continue to be accessible and relatable as sheriff, and I want to be held accountable. The change that’s on the horizon for Fulton County is amazing, and I am grateful to be a part of it.”
Of the loss, Jackson said, “I believe that the citizens of Fulton County voted for those candidates that they want to see lead. I am thankful for the 12 years that I served with dignity, integrity, honesty and no scandals. I will take my leave on December 31,2020.”
Those two high-profile campaigns led a group of five runoffs in Fulton.
Melynee Leftridge Harris beat Tamika Hrobowski-Houston with 60.75% in the nonpartisan Superior Court judge race to replace Constance Russell, who is not seeking reelection.
In the nonpartisan District 4 Fulton Board of Education race, with 100% of precincts reporting, Franchesca Warren defeated Sandra Wright with 56.74% in the campaign to replace member Linda Bryant, who is not seeking reelection.
Finally, in the District 65 Georgia House of Representatives race, with 100% of precincts reporting, Mandisha Thomas upset incumbent Sharon Beasley-Teague with 60.24% in the Democratic runoff. The winner will be unopposed in November.
Based on data collected from the secretary of state and Fulton websites, voter turnout in the county was only 11.6%.