July 6, 2004

4th District hopefuls appear in Glenn


By Michael Terrazas

Six Democrats took the stage on Wednesday, June 23, in Glenn Auditorium, as Emory hosted a forum for candidates running for U.S. Congress in Georgia's 4th District.

Sponsored by the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, the event pitted six of the seven individuals vying for the seat to be vacated by Democratic Rep. Denise Majette, who is running for the Senate seat currently held by Zell Miller. (Republican 4th District candidate Catherine Davis was out of town and unable to participate, said Betty Willis, Emory's associate vice president for governmental and community affairs.)

Dale Russell, investigative reporter for WAGA-FOX5, moderated the forum--which was not a debate. Candidates were allowed two minutes each for opening and closing statements, and one minute for responses to questions. Personal attacks were strictly forbidden, Russell told the panel, which included:

After the candidates made opening statements, Russell asked them a series of six questions on issues from how to attract businesses to the district, to the effects of gentrification on in-town neighborhoods, to the war in Iraq and federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

With all six candidates being Democrats, there emerged no critical differences of opinion among them. However, if their opening statements were any indication, there were nuances on the issues each chose to emphasize. Levetan, who often cited her experience as former DeKalb County CEO as a major qualification, said the American economy still lags and suffers from record budget deficits incurred by the Bush administration's policies.

McKinney, who lost in the 2002 primary to Majette, also stood on her record of accomplishments and said she has supported projects beneficial to Emory, such as a proposed rail line to south DeKalb and various biomedical programs and centers.

Stokes, a state senate floor leader under former Gov. Roy Barnes, emphasized her role in securing $1.5 million in state funding for small businesses over the past three years.

Thomas said she meets the four tests of political effectiveness: making her constituency a priority, committing to serve more than a single term, ability to work with her colleagues and the knowledge of how to get legislation passed.

Woolard emphasized transportation issues, citing her work on the Beltline project that seeks to transform Atlanta's abandoned railroad lines into public transit thru-ways. She pledged to push for an "urban agenda" from Washington.

Vaughn, the lone candidate who has never held elected office, said DeKalb does not get a "fair return" on the money it sends to Washington and pledged to bring more federal dollars into the district.

When asked by Russell whether they would have voted in favor of the war in Iraq, each candidate allowed for the benefits of hindsight and pointed out that the information available at the time was more limited. However four of the six said they would not have voted to authorize war; Levetan and Vaughn said, at the time, they would have trusted President George W. Bush's assertions and voted yes, though both said circumstances have changed and Vaughn suggested that the entire push toward war now "reeks of something impeachable."

Regarding Bush's controversial No Child Left Behind legislation, reactions from the candidates varied in degree but all were highly critical of the program, which demands individual public schools meet certain levels of standardized testing for their students; schools that fail may watch enrollment plummet as students are granted vouchers to attend private schools.

All the candidates called No Child Left Behind an unfunded mandate from Washington; even the funds promised by the Bush administration to support the program have not been fully delivered, they said. McKinney drew one of the event's bigger laughs on this point; the question, as Russell delivered it, asked whether there was anything about the program the candidates liked. When her turn came up, McKinney paused before declaring, "We like the name. It's a wonderful name."

Just before closing statements, Russell read questions from the audience submitted on index cards, and though the crowd's size was modest, its questions were not. Examples: "Sen. Stokes, how can you be effective in the U.S. Congress when you didn't measure up as floor leader under Gov. Barnes?" Also: "Mr. Vaughn, what issues caused you to switch from the Republican to the Democratic party--and, please, be specific." The crowd also asked whether the candidates would support an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage; all said no.

Russell himself asked the most interesting question. He challenged the candidates to assume that, individually, they were out of the race. Of the remaining slate, for whom would they vote? Only Thomas and Woolard stepped up to the plate, each saying she would vote for the other. The other four candidates laughed and politely declined to answer.