As candidates seek public office this election season, they have faced a blitz of forums, meet and greets, and questionnaires from groups seeking to vet them.
Jesse “Jay Cunningham,” who is running for DeKalb School Board’s District 5 seat, said he believes 2014 may be a banner year for political debates.
“I don’t think we have ever had so many different groups hosting candidates’ forums for one election cycle. And with qualifying in March, it’s been a short election cycle that has made those forums even more intense,” said Cunningham, reflecting on elections he won in 2006 and 2010 with 64 percent of the vote. “Normally, you would have more time to campaign and attend forums, but that just hasn’t been the case this year. They've been back to back.”
Vickie B. Turner, who is running in the same race as Cunningham, said the forum schedules have been grueling, but she still considers them a great learning experience, especially for candidates like her who are running for political office for the first time.
“On some nights, we had to be in two places at the same time,” said Turner. “In the interest of everyone’s time, I feel there should have been more collaboration between the organizations hosting the forums to work together to avoid overlapping.”
Turner praised Leadership DeKalb for its voter education project, "It's For Them, DeKalb," saying it was "professionally done."
Leadership DeKalb received a $25,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to produce online videos of the Board of Education candidates. The videos can be found at www.itsforthemdekalb.org. The project also included candidate questionnaires and live forums. Leadership DeKalb partnered with the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Junior League of DeKalb County, Parents Council United and South DeKalb Improvement Alliance to sponsor forums at the Porter Sanford Performing Arts Center in Decatur and the Emory University Law School.
Rev. Albert E. Love, who heads the Voter Empowerment Collaborative, a non-partisan group, says collaboration is what his group had in mind when it teamed up with several union groups and others to host a DeKalb’s sheriff’s candidates debate on April 8 at Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain. It was one of the first local debates scheduled.
"By collaborating, we were able to develop a variety of questions to ask the candidates. The forum gave the challengers the opportunity to discuss their platforms. The main thing we wanted to do is educate the community," said Love.
Love said his organization focuses on local elections, especially during the odd years.
"We really want to empower voters and mobilize people to go to the polls to vote," Love said.
The League of Women Voters, DeKalb NAACP, The Champion Newspaper, Stan Watson's Community Cabinet Breakfast, Southwest DeKalb PTSA, Lithonia Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, New Life Church and The Greater Lithonia Chamber of Commerce are among those that have held forums so far. Several others have probed the candidates through questionnaires.