Two LGBT candidates headed to runoffs in metro Atlanta

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A lesbian attorney placed first in her race for the Georgia House, while a gay attorney came in second in a Fulton judicial campaign, meaning both candidates will face a July runoff. Three other LGBT candidates flopped at the polls on Tuesday.

Valerie Vie (top photo) received the most votes in the crowded race for the District 62 seat in the Georgia House, besting another gay candidate and four others. And Gary Alembik placed second in his race to win a Fulton County Superior Court judgeship. Both will complete in runoffs on July 26.

But three other gay candidates in contested House races – Josh Noblitt, Rafer Johnson and Keith DeJesus – fell short. 

In District 62, Vie, placed first with 26.78% of the vote, or 1,128 votes, and is headed to the runoff with William Boddie, who placed second with 24.38% of the vote, or 1,027 votes.

“We did it! Thank you constituents of District-62,” Vie wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

Gay flight attendant and civic activist Rafer Johnson placed fourth with 18.80% of the vote, or 792 votes. 

Georgia Equality and the Victory Fund endorsed Johnson, while Georgia Stonewall Democrats sat out the race. Johnson also outraised Vie in donations.

“I’m going to work for the people,” Vie said in an interview in early May.

An attorney by trade, Vie discussed her people-centered approach to her campaign and the issues she wants to champion. Vie has served as president of the Douglas County Bar Association and has worked in her community – her law offices are in Douglasville – addressing issues including homelessness and youth truancy.

“I was elected the first African-American Bar president in Douglas County. Now, I’m a Democrat, the majority of the Bar in Douglas County is Republican,” Vie said, noting that her ties have helped her garner donations across party lines.

Johnson, who launched his campaign in May 2015, congratulated Vie and Boddie in a Facebook post early Wednesday.

“The voters have spoken and we did not win the 2016 primary, congratulations to those in the runoff,” Johnson said. “I am deeply grateful for the passion, contributions, support and love shown during this year. As a first-time candidate, we learned tons about the process and we will find a way to put that to good use.”

The race is to replace Rep. LaDawn Blackett Jones. The district includes portions of East Point, College Park, Douglasville and Union City, and Fulton and Douglas counties. 

Gay attorney in runoff for Fulton judgeship


Alembik (second photo) placed second in a four-way race to succeed retiring Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob. He received 29.15% of the vote, or 16,160 votes, and will face a July 26 runoff against Eric Dunaway, who picked up 46.85% of the vote, or 25,969 votes.

Georgia Equality endorsed Alembik.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Alembik said he's ready for the runoff.

“I am very happy to report that we are in a run off. Buckle up, and join me on the path to victory. I will be reaching out to all of you in the coming days to ask you to help me as we advance to the finish line. Thank you for your continued support,” he said.

In an April interview with Project Q Atlanta, Alembik said he brings 28 years of legal work and a decade of judicial experience to the campaign. Alembik, a family law attorney, serves as a Fulton magistrate and hearing officer.

“I am drawn to public service and one of the things my dad instilled in me is that it's important to give back, to pay forward, to make a difference,” Alembik said.

“There is nothing more satisfying to me than bringing people together to solve their problems and offer a lasting remedy. Try to drill down to the facts and find a remedy that is lasting,” he added.

If Alembik wins the runoff, he would become the second openly LGBT Superior Court judge in Fulton, joining Jane Barwick on the bench.

Three gay men lose campaigns


In Georgia House District 59, the campaign of pastor and neighborhood activist Josh Noblitt to replace gay-friendly state Rep. Margaret Kaiser fell short. Noblitt received just 21.55% of the vote, placing him last in the three-person race. Janine Brown and David Dreyer will face off in the July 26 runoff.

Noblitt's campaign came with strong support from LGBT political activists and he raised at least $75,000 in donations – though that lagged behind his two competitors. Noblitt picked up endorsements from Georgia Equality, Georgia Stonewall Democrats and the Victory Fund.

Noblitt announced his candidacy in May 2015 and formally kicked off fundraising last June. 

“My background is as a minister and a therapist, and so relationship building is what I do for a living. And I really believe that that is a large part of what the legislative process is all about: is building and cultivating those relationships,” Noblitt said in an April interview.

With no Republican running, the winner of the runoff in July will take the seat and replace Kaiser, who chose not to run for re-election so she can mount a mayoral campaign.

The district consists of an eclectic swath of Atlanta, including Poncey-Highland, Little Five Points, Inman Park, Reynoldstown, Grant Park, Lakewood Heights and East Point.

In District 56, gay financial counselor Keith Dejesus placed third in a three-way race, picking up just 11.59% of the vote, or 281 votes. Incumbent state Rep. Able “Mable” Thomas easily won another term, with 78.22% of the vote, or 1896 votes.

DeJesus ran a skeleton campaign and failed to file any campaign disclosure reports. He told the Georgia Voice in January that he wanted to focus on same-sex adoptions, HIV issues, a non-discrimination law and beating back anti-gay bills. But he later declined to speak with Project Q Atlanta about the race and his campaign.

Both Georgia Equality and Georgia Stonewall Democrats endorsed Thomas.

District 56 includes portions of Midtown, downtown and southeast Atlanta. 

If Vie wins the runoff in July, she would join three other openly LGBT lawmakers in the Georgia House – Reps. Karla Drenner, Keisha Waites and Park Cannon. All three ran unopposed on Tuesday and only Waites faces token Republican opposition in November. 

But the path to the Georgia House is littered with the failed campaigns of gay men. The House includes just three LGBT people – all lesbians – and no openly gay man has ever won a General Assembly race, though several have tried – Bob Gibeling, Timothy Swiney, Christopher Deraney, Kyle Williams, Tim Riley, Randy New, Ken Britt, Keith Gross, Rashad Taylor and Allen Thornell. Add Noblitt, Johnson and DeJesus to the list.

Two other gay men – William Phelps in 2012 and Brad Ploeger in 2010 – have run and lost in District 59. But they ran against Kaiser, a strong incumbent with a lengthy track record of supporting LGBT issues. 

In November, Gibeling faces state Rep. Beth Beskin in the District 54 race. He lost to Beskin in 2014.

In other races on Tuesday, lesbian Fulton County Commissioner Garner ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and faces no Republican opposition in November. She took office in 2011 as the county's first openly gay commissioner. Garner's partner, Fulton State Court Judge Jane Morrison, also ran unopposed in the non-partisan judicial race and won a second term.


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