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|Garner becomes first out Fulton commissioner|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|August 20, 2010 00:00|
After winning the Aug. 10 runoff election to become the Fulton County District 6 Commissioner, Joan Garner said the experience was still “surreal.”
“I’m a bit tired. I can’t sleep,” Garner said the day after she defeated Keisha Waites 65 to 35 percent. “I’ve got to learn to turn it off.”
Garner placed second in the Democratic primary in July, then came from behind to easily win the August runoff. Her name will now appear on the November ballot, but because no Republican or independent candidate qualified, the Democratic runoff effectively decided the seat.
Garner and her partner of 11 years, Jane Morrison, are now on vacation and will be back by Aug. 25 to celebrate the election victory with the community. Details for the celebration have not been finalized.
“I’ve got to take a few weeks to rejuvenate. It’s important for me to reenergize,” Garner said. “Then I’ll be back the first week in September and hit the ground again.”
The Garner vs. Waites race pitted two lesbians against each other and Garner will now be the first openly gay Fulton County commissioner.
“I’m honored about that,” she said, but acknowledged she is stepping on the shoulders of other lesbian elected officials who have come before her — including Cathy Woolard, former Atlanta City Council member and president; state Rep. Simone Bell, Decatur City Commissioner Kecia Cunningham, and state Rep. Karla Drenner.”
“It continues to show that we as lesbian and gay people are part of society. This is only a part of who we are … and I’m honored to represent the community,” Garner said.
“I decided long ago when volunteering that you will know who I am. This is just part of that. And I’m pleased with the support I received from the community.”
She is very grateful for her partner as well.
“When I started this, she was not really involved. But she is a great organizer, she wanted to protect me, and she was very supportive,” Garner said.
The two met more than 11 years ago when Garner was on the board of Lambda Legal and it opened a Southern regional office in Atlanta. Morrison, an attorney, joined the Lambda staff.
After Garner left the board, the two remained friends. As a volunteer and community activist, Garner often traveled. So one day Morrison brought food over to Garner’s house and cooked her a nice meal. That was their first date.
“And I thought, ‘I could get used to this,’” Garner said, laughing. “And for the first two and a half years we dated, she didn’t know I could cook.” The two now share cooking duties.
On serious matters, Garner said she knows the Fulton Commission has a history of being, at the very least, “dysfunctional.” She said she hopes she brings a different “style” to the commission by building relationships.
“I don’t have a magic pill. People want to be heard and know you care about them and their issues. I’m willing to listen and learn and do my own research,” she said.
On the campaign trail, Garner said she learned there are numerous issues facing the senior citizens of Fulton County that need to be addressed, including public transportation. Health care is also essential to all people.
“I’d like to see other counties participate [in funding] but we need a public hospital. People are concerned about Grady and how it functions — it is a benefit to all of us and how it continues to thrive,” she said.
Public safety was also a top priority voters told her they hoped she would address as a commissioner, Garner said. But she explained that the county’s responsibilities are about setting the budgets for the court system and the jail, not about putting more police on the streets — that involves the city of Atlanta and other cities.
Other topics that need to be addressed include the Beltline, regional transportation, MARTA services, libraries, the arts, mental health services and how the county’s funds are administered, she said.
“My passion in life is connecting with people. I just want the best for people and for people to have a good quality of life, regardless of who you are,” she said.
Waites, who proved unsuccessful in her eighth bid for public office since 2001, issued a statement on her Facebook page after the runoff.
“On election night, I reached out to Commissioner-Elect Joan Garner to congratulate her and wish her great success. I am also calling on everyone who supporting [sic] me to give their same commitment and support to Joan as she makes the transition,” Waites said. “I will continue to remain engaged in the process of advocating for regionalized transportation, fiscal accountability, and the improvement in the delivery of county services.”
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