2 LGBT candidates face voters in Fulton runoffs

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Two LGBT attorneys – one seeking a Fulton County judgeship and the other running for the state House – are among six Georgia Equality endorsed candidates who face voters in runoffs across metro Atlanta.

Gary Alembik (photo), a family law attorney and Fulton magistrate, and Valerie Vie face voters on Tuesday. In May, Vie received the most votes in a crowded race for the District 62 seat in the Georgia House, besting another gay candidate and four others. Alembik placed second in his race for a Superior Court judgeship. 

Alembik faces Eric Dunaway, a deputy chief assistant District Attorney in DeKalb. The two men hope to replace Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob, who didn't seek re-election.

The runoffs are critical. For non-partisan judicial races it's the final stop to securing victory, while many intown Democrats can rest assured that if they win on Tuesday, they face little or no Republican opposition in November and will handily win.

Vie is in a runoff against William Boddie for the state House seat. If Vie wins, she will join three other openly LGBT state lawmakers – state Reps. Karla Drenner, Keisha Waites and Park Cannon. In May, she pledged “to work for the people.”

Alembik brings 28 years of legal work and a decade of judicial experience to the race for the judgeship, which oversees a variety of civil and criminal cases. If elected, Alembik would become the second openly LGBT Superior Court judge in Fulton, joining Jane Barwick on the bench. Barwick replaced Judge Cynthia Wright, who is gay, in 2014. Fulton State Court Judge Jane Morrison, a lesbian who won the seat in 2012, is running unopposed for a second term.

“The fact that I am gay doesn’t define me, I think people need to look to my experience,” Alembik said.

“Our bench needs to reflect the face of our community. And it would be nice to have, especially in the family division given marriage equality, somebody that you kind of has an understanding of the dynamics that come with a gay divorce or a gay adoption,” he added.

What’s the key to victory today? Getting out the vote for a runoff election in late July.

“My primary concern is folks getting out to vote for this runoff election in the latter part of the summer, involving folks that they don’t really believe make a difference in their lives,” Alembik said.

Indeed, in 2014 only 10 percent of Fulton voters turned out for the July primary runoff, which included races from city councils on up to U.S. Senate seats. On Tuesday, voters face runoffs for just a handful of races – not exactly the turnout boost of a presidential election or hot ballot item.

Alembik also faces the challenge of Fulton's sheer size – both in voters and geography. He has traversed a county that runs “75 plus miles from top to bottom,” he said. This has meant his campaign has raised – and spent – quite a bit of money to reach Fulton’s more than half a million voters.

“And that means significant number of mailers, robocalls. As a matter of fact, I have a phone bank here calling folks, probably driving them crazy by they way, so that I can be sure these folks know who the heck I am,” Alembik said. 

As of June 30, Alembik had more than $96,000 cash on hand, although in the past month alone he loaned his campaign about $45,000. Self-funding, Alembik said, is “an expression of how not only financially invested, but emotionally invested I am in the outcome.”

Dunaway had just shy of $39,000 cash on hand. He’s spent more than $146,000 on his campaign so far, while Alembik has dropped just under $214,000.

Alembik’s role as a magistrate has primarily focused on serving in the court’s Family Division dealing with issues like domestic violence and divorce. Stepping up to Superior Court Judge would mean covering a wider range of law – both civil and criminal.

One of the qualifications Alembik points out that uniquely suits him to this is his time serving on a task force that “studied other model jurisdictions to determine why they are more efficient, why they are more effective.” Alembik said that positioned him to understand what it takes to be an effective judge, based on the best models from across the country.

Alembik said experience is critical in the race. He pointed to his work as a magistrate and compared that to Dunaway, a veteran prosecutor but one without any judicial experience.

“Because of my experience not only sitting as a judge, but having the benefit of having studied other jurisdictions, I better understand the importance of managing cases and moving cases through our court system,” Alembik said.

The other bit of experience that Alembik has appreciated during his tenure on the bench is working with litigants representing themselves, which is the reality of many people’s economic situation.

“Most folks can’t afford attorneys,” Alembik said. “That is something I have a lot of experience with and patience for.”

Four other candidates endorsed by Georgia Equality are in runoffs on Tuesday:

  • Dee Dawkins-Haigler, State Senate District 43
  • Sterling Eaves, Fulton County Superior Court Judge
  • Clint Rucker, Fulton County Solicitor General
  • Rudjard Hayes, Griffin District Attorney

Find out where to vote here. 

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