Early voting continues this week in the race for DeKalb County's District 4 Commission seat.
Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton faces challenger Steve Bradshaw in what both candidates said has been a very negative and divisive race.
Analysts say interest in the race could mean a slightly higher than usual voter turn-out in a mid-summer runoff election.
Barnes Sutton has mailed out flyers saying Bradshaw is not a true Democrat. Both candidates are African-American. Included on the Barnes-Sutton flyer is a photo of Bradshaw with his wife, who is white.
Bradshaw has pointed out the numerous ethics complaints against Barnes Sutton; she said they're false and she's fighting them in court right now.
Clark Atlanta University political science professor William Boone said he thinks the race will be close, but the flyers showing Bradshaw's wife may end up helping him.
"It may galvanize some of the electorate to demonstrate that race is not a factor,” Boone said. “When you go to various community meetings in DeKalb, especially in the southern end of the county, the kinds of questions that are raised are very fundamental and profound questions having to do with a lack of development and resources. I don't think race, especially the race of a spouse, is going to drive people."
Boone said the last time he remembers a similar situation was in 2014 when Robb Pitts was running for Commission Chair of Fulton County against John Eaves.
“The race of his [Pitts'] wife was also bought up, but it did not work,” Boone said. “One thinks about heightened tensions that are going on generally throughout the country and it’s always there. But in certain instances it’s counterproductive. There’s always these kinds of whispers, but when you have profound quality of life issues that impact a particular community, then the question of race on whether someone has a white or African-American spouse pales in comparison to what you’re concerned about.”
Emory University associate professor of political science Andra Gillespie said attacks on racial authenticity are not uncommon, but it’s fair to discuss race only during relevant conversations like policing in communities.
“To try to imply that somebody is disqualified for office because they are interracially married is unacceptable. It’s not actually contributing to any substantive debate," Gillespie said. “Whether or not it's effective remains to be seen, so we'll see how voters react. Needless to say, in the summer, both sides need to actively identify the committed voters who would be willing to turn out.”
Sutton Barnes said she printed the photo of Bradshaw with his wife on a campaign flyer because she was told he was trying to hide the fact that his wife was white and was making the assumption that the largely African-American district was not inclusive and would not be welcoming of his wife.
"I think I will be victorious in the July 26 runoff,” Barnes Sutton said. “I am what's best for this district because I represent the needs of the people here. I’ve worked hard to secure the resources, the economic development, public safety, facilities and recreational opportunities for our youth and adults. I’ve done that. We’re on the brink of renewal here in DeKalb County and I need to stay here to see it through.”
Bradshaw, who had the most votes in the primary, said he sees her attacks as desperation. He said some people have told him they'll vote for him out of disgust.
He said his first priority is to change the narrative of corruption and bad governance in DeKalb County and wants to focus on business development and job growth in District 4.