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Taking The 5th: Five Candidates Seek New Fulton Commission Seat

By Hal Lamar | 5/16/2014, 10:15 a.m.
Top to bottom: Brenda Muhammad, Dell Byrd, Marvin Arrington, Jr., Johnnie Gordon, Kwame Thompson

ATLANTA - Thanks to the Republican majority in both houses of the Georgia General Assembly, Fulton County’s seven commission districts were redrawn during this year’s 40 day session.

According to its supporters led by Republican Lynne Riley, a former Fulton Commissioner, the redistricting was needed to create better representation for county residents. .

Opponents and especially Democratic members of the commission, however contend the new restricting dilutes black voting power in the county and is little more than an attempt by the GOP, Tea Party and other right-wingers into shifting the balance of power from the predominantly black southside to the mostly white northern quadrants.

Interestingly, although the newly drawn 5th District encompasses a majority white voting populace, only African American candidates qualified to run for the seat.

Three of the five commissioner wannabes have had previous experiences running for public office. One of them, Brenda Muhammad, served as a member of the Atlanta School Board for 16 years and was elected twice as its president. One of the major planks of her campaign is public safety and for good reason.

In 1990, Norbren, the oldest of her three children, was gunned down not far from Southside (now Maynard H Jackson) High School. The tragedy led her to participate and eventually become executive director of the Atlanta Victim-Witness program.

“Working with AWAP, I see the perils of young people going through the juvenile justice system,” she states on her campaign website. “In order to interrupt the downward cycle, we have to adopt policies that address mental health, parental engagement, and develop programs to intercede before they get into trouble.”

Marvin Arrington, Jr., son of former Atlanta City Council president, attorney and now retired Fulton Superior Court Judge Marvin Senior, is another 5th District candidate who has previously immersed himself in  a political race. Less than two years ago, he sought the District 62 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. Although finishing strong in the August primary that year with 47.5% of the vote, he was forced into a runoff and, because of poor voting turnout, lost to opponent LaDawn Jones.

 Undeterred, Arrington plunged into the 5th District race, which like the 62nd, was without an incumbent.

“I think the race for the fifth is a better fit for me,” he told this reporter. “Not having an incumbent to run against is somewhat an advantage although at times it can be a double-edged sword.”

And as for being the namesake son of one of the city’s most popular former elected officials? “I hope it provides for me a little advantage in name recognition but ultimately, I think the voters’ decision rests upon yourself and what you being to the table,” Arrington said.

(Editor’s note: Read online interviews with Fulton County Commissioners Bill Edwards and Emma Darnell political allies who now find themselves in a race against one another because of redistricting.)

The native Atlantan who followed his father into law, thinks his interfacing with the criminal justice system as a Georgia barrister for 17 years is a big plus for him.