Three well-known community leaders are vying to represent the Democratic Party in the race to unseat Republican JaNice Van Ness for the Rockdale Board of Commission’s Post 2 seat.
The hotly contested race could literally change the face of the Board of Commissioners, possibly producing an all-male board, all Democratic board or even the first black woman on the board. Currently, two black men, both Democrats, serve with Van Ness, who is white and the only woman on the three-member board.
The three Democratic candidates running to unseat Van Ness are Josie Dean, a minister, community activist and home daycare owner; Arlan Gibson, also a minister and businessman; and Doreen Williams, a retired educator and the former chair of the Rockdale Democratic Party.
Van Ness, a fourth generation Rockdale resident, faces no Republican challenger in the May 20 primary. Van Ness, who has served two, four-year terms, said she is running for re-election on her record.
“I have faced competition for this seat before. I will handle it this time the same way: by keeping my focus on economic development, finances, transportation, our seniors, and other aspects that keep Rockdale going,” said Van Ness, 45. “I deeply appreciate the trust and confidence residents have shown in me and my leadership in the past with their votes. I am honored to get that support.”
Van Ness, who was first elected in 2006, won re-election in 2010, defeating Democratic challenger Courtney Dillard with 52 percent of the vote.
Dean, 53, who supported Van Ness in the 2010 elections, said she is challenging her this time because she believes it’s time for new leadership.
“After coming to every single meeting, I realized that I need to run for the seat, instead of just standing by and complaining about it,” said Dean, who is campaigning as the “people’s commissioner.”
A resident of Rockdale for about 10 years, Dean founded the bi-partisan Rockdale County Think Tank civic group and is on the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) Citizens Oversight Committee. Dean has been on the forefront of addressing several issues in the county, including protesting changing zoning regulations for houses of worship, as well as opposing the proposed 2012 T-SPLOST Transportation Tax.
Gibson, 65, is campaigning on a platform to improve public safety and economic development. A resident of Rockdale for five years, Gibson has been active with youths in the community, volunteering with the Powerhouse Youth Organization, youth detention centers, the Men of Distinction and Men to Men Mentoring. Gibson says he has lived in Rockdale for approximately five years. The Vietnam veteran is currently working with Rockdale County Probate Judge Charles Mays to assist in establishing a special court focused on veterans who need rehabilitation.
“My priority issues are having a strong public safety sector, attracting new businesses to the county and creating jobs,” said Gibson, an ordained minister at Grace Church International in Atlanta. “In me, voters will have someone who will fight to keep and expand the things that are working in government and will take responsibility for the things that are not. I will work tirelessly to make them right.”
Gibson ran on the Republican ticket in 2007 for the Macon mayor’s race in 2007.
He says that decision in 2007 should not negatively affect the minds of voters.
“I’ve always been active in Democratic campaigns. I’m willing to compromise. I’m willing to reach across the aisle and I realize that members of both parties must find some kind of middle ground. That’s the only way to get things done,” said Gibson. “I ran as a Republican. It was a strategic mistake. I was trying to bring a more moderate voice to a right wing situation because at the time, I was really aligned with studying Colin Powell. I've been a Democrat all my life and I've voted Democrat for the past 8 to 9 years.”
Gibson said he worked with the campaigns to elect the Board of Commissioner’s Chairman Richard Oden, Clerk of Courts Ruth Wilson and Sheriff Eric Levett, all Democrats.
Williams, 62, who ran unsuccessfully for Georgia State Representative in 2012, said she is ready to use the skills she has acquired through many years of community service. A 20-year Rockdale resident, she serves as the secretary/treasurer of the Board of Directors for View Point Health, where she says the board oversees a multi-million dollar budget. Williams also serves as co-chair for the statewide Georgia Federation of Democratic Women's Mental Health Committee and she formerly chaired the Rockdale County Democratic Party. She served as the Party treasurer from 2006 - 2012.
“I think I can bring a new perspective to the seat because I have strengths in critical analysis and budget negotiations. In me, voters will have an elected official who is available and accessible,” said Williams, who is a retired educator with a Ph.D.
Williams said she is already canvassing for votes.
“Canvassing is my favorite part of this whole thing because you get to meet new people. I love doing that, plus I get to hear and share some ideas on the important issues in our community.”