After soaking in the reality of winning her first stab at public office—and culminating an historic election in Cobb County in the process—District 2 commissioner-elect Jerica Richardson admitted there’s some sobering work ahead for her and her colleagues in the coming months.
She’s one of two new faces on the Cobb Board of Commissioners, which in January will have a Democratic majority and will be all female.
That majority also is made of black women, including Richardson, a 31-year-old Equifax manager, who edged out Republican Fitz Johnson in this week’s elections.
Chair-elect Lisa Cupid defeated incumbent Mike Boyce and Monique Sheffield was elected to succeed Cupid as District 4 commissioner in South Cobb.
As of Saturday, and with a few absentee and provisional ballots to count, Richardson was leading Johnson by 1,224 votes, 53,642 to 52,418 (updated results can be found here).
Johnson essentially conceded on Thursday, saying “it doesn’t look great.”
“I was hearing from a lot of people that [the closeness of the results] was because of the quality of the candidates,” said Richardson, who called Johnson “a Cobb County success story. He ran a real cordial race.”
After running the campaigns of Cobb State Rep. Erick Allen and Cobb school board member Jaha Howard, Richardson said she viewed her maiden campaign as an effort to “build bridges in deep waters.”
It was among various metaphors she’s used in her “Connecting Cobb” theme of her campaign (previous ECN story here).
In succeeding retiring commissioner Bob Ott, she’ll inherit a distinct district in itself. In includes most of East Cobb below Sandy Plains Road and the Cumberland-Vinings-Smyrna area.
Johnson won most of the East Cobb precincts, and Richardson prevailed in the latter.
“Colors on a map don’t tell the whole story of a community,” said Richardson, who lived in a neighborhood near The Avenue in East Cobb and now resides in the Delk Road area.
Part of her campaign outreach, she said, has been to “cut through echo chambers. If this is an opportunity to build those bridges then this is that year.”
Tackling a county budget affected by the continuing economic fallout from COVID-related lockdowns and other consequences of the pandemic loom large.
“There are going to be some really hard conversations,” Richardson said. “What are our priorities? Our focus? Our vision. And we’ll have to make decisions based on that.”
Among short-term priorities, she favors closing the Sterigenics plant “until further notice.” Homeowners living near the Smyrna-based company that sterilizes medical equipment have filed a lawsuit over what they claim have been cancer-causing emissions.
On a broader and longer-term scale, she said it’s going to be vital to bring as many individuals and areas of Cobb to the table to hash them out, to “build the synergy” of a community she said hasn’t been fully represented on the board.
“The commissioners haven’t had a united vision,” she said, noting that in recent years, it’s been four Republicans and one Democrat—Cupid—who’s often voted alone.
“I don’t see people as red or blue, I see them as an individual,” Richardson said.
During the campaign, Richardson set up some “open office hours” to get to know voters—in a socially-distanced manner—and plans to keep doing so.
She campaigned on a few occasions with Howard, who’s become a firebrand on the school board, angering his Republican colleagues and most recently, taking a knee during the pledge of allegiance at a meeting.
Richardson said “that’s not my method, but I will be having conversations with different groups of people.”
She said Howard was responding to school parents who weren’t being heard, “but he was always willing to listen.”
Richardson acknowledged that a new dynamic on the commission will take some getting used to in Cobb County, which has been dominated by a white, conservative and mostly male political establishment for decades.
“When things change, there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty,” she said. “The only way we’re able to overcome the challenges that we have is to focus on love,” and what she says are the three unifying things that are of utmost importance: expanding liberty, empathy and opportunity” for Cobb citizens.
“If we can do those things, we can overcome every challenge,” Richardson said. “I really believe it.”