Keisha Waites kicks off campaign for Fulton Commission chair

Former state lawmaker Keisha Waites formally launched her campaign for Fulton County Commission chair, pledging to vocally support LGBT issues and boost the county's efforts at combatting its HIV epidemic.

If Waites wins the May 22 primary, she would make history as the county's first-ever LGBT commission chair. She faces Robb Pitts, a former county commissioner who beat Waites last November in a special election for commission chair. With no Republican opposition in November, whoever wins the Democratic primary will become chair.

"It's important to note that in the first 100 days of the current seat holder we have seen no significant vocalization surrounding our community, the things that we care about," Waites said. "I'm referring to HIV funding. I'm referring to the need for PrEP in our various communities, and speaking out against legislation that is detrimental to our community and conversations surrounding getting rid of LGBT adoptions."

"It's very important that when you're chair of Fulton County that you are a chair for everyone and that you also represent our community. It is my belief that I just have not seen that commitment that I think is necessary given the diversity of Fulton County. And I believe that I bring that to the table," she added.

Waites formally launched her campaign on Sunday at the Marriott Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport Hotel, a nod to her three terms as a state lawmaker. The hotel sits in House District 60, which Waites represented in the General Assembly for three terms before resigning in September to run for Fulton chair.

In that campaign – a race to serve the remaining months of the term of former Fulton Chair John Eaves – Waites placed second to Pitts in a three-candidate field in November. Pitts won 38.27% of the vote to Waites' 33.93%. Gabriel Sterling received 27.80% of the vote.

In a runoff a month later, Pitts defeated Waites 55% to 45%. But Waites said the dynamics of the rematch in May favor her campaign.

"When you look at the numbers, they were quite impressive and I think that given there was an open primary, the dynamics were very, very different. It is my belief now that with it being a Democratic primary, the opportunity for success is much greater," Waites said.

Waites also pointed to her track record as a state lawmaker to demonstrate that she's been "a vocal champion" for Fulton residents at the State Capitol.

"When you look at my legislative track record as a Democrat in the Georgia General Assembly, I never ran away from gun reform, I never ran away from conversations such as immigration as well as LGBT rights. Those are core principle values of Democrats and that is something that I stand for and have done for the last three terms in six years," Waites said.

In the November race, Waites was endorsed by LGBT groups Georgia Equality and Georgia Stonewall Democrats.

Waites took office in February 2012 after winning a special election for the District 60 post in the state House. In 2010, she ran for the Fulton County Commission, topping a crowded field only to lose the runoff by 168 votes to Joan Garner, who went on to become the commission's first openly LGBT member. In 2006, Waites ran for Fulton chair and lost to Eaves.

As a state lawmaker, Waites has lobbied to protect LGBT state employees from discrimination with personal testimony, fought for a hate crimes law, voted against allowing guns into bars, rallied opposition to anti-LGBT legislation again and again, smacked down bullies in schools – twice, and stood to support Atlanta's transgender community.

"This is just an opportunity to reintroduce myself to Fulton County as a candidate for Fulton County chair," Waites said at the campaign event on Sunday. "I've found that oftentimes people still recognize me as Rep. Keisha Waites. That's great for the work that we've done but I want to start to move into a different mode."