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Qualifying for May 2014 primary ends with a couple of surprises

Lee County District 3 Commissioner Ed Duffy to withdraw in favor of former commissioner Billy Mathis

Gloria Gaines signs qualifying papers Friday to run for Dougherty County Commission chair in May’s Democratic primary. Gaines had to resign her District 5 seat to run, and that vacant position will be filled in a special election, likely in November’s General Election. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Gloria Gaines signs qualifying papers Friday to run for Dougherty County Commission chair in May’s Democratic primary. Gaines had to resign her District 5 seat to run, and that vacant position will be filled in a special election, likely in November’s General Election. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

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Dougherty County District 2 Commissioner John Hayes signs qualifying papers Friday to run for re-election. Of the four incumbent commissioners whose seats are up for re-election, Hayes is the only one who will run unopposed. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

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Ezekiel Holley

ALBANY — Candidate qualifying for the May 20 primary election closed quietly at noon on Friday, but not without a couple of surprises.

The Lee County Commission District 3 race took a decided turn during the day when Albany attorney Billy Mathis, who previously occupied the seat for eight years, entered the race and incumbent Ed Duffy decided to drop out. Multiple sources close to the situation said earlier in the day that Duffy, who took Mathis’ seat on the commission in 2007, decided to withdraw from the contest in favor of Mathis.

“It is my understanding that Ed has decided not to run again,” Mathis said. “Ed and I are friends, and I’m the one who talked him into running the first time when I decided not to run. I’ve been (on the commission) before, and I think I can be of benefit to the community. Lee County is fortunate to be represented by good people, and my politics are real simple: less taxes, less government and provide basic services to the people.”

Duffy issued the following statement to The Herald Friday afternoon:

“It has been my pleasure to have served the citizens of my district on the Lee County Board of Commissioners. It was my intention not to seek re-election for a third four-year term due to my age (82) and the health conditions of my wife. I, along with others, spoke with several individuals and discussed their willingness to serve the citizens but did not receive a commitment from anyone.

“Without a qualified individual committed to running for my position and based upon the encouragement of residents of my district, I agreed to seek a third term.

“Mr. Billy Mathis, a former chairman and commissioner for Lee County, was one of the individuals I spoke with on several occasions because I heard he was contemplating seeking election. At the time I qualified, Mr. Mathis had not fully made up his mind. But now Mr. Mathis has decided to run and has qualified for the election. He and I share many of the same views for Lee County. Mr. Mathis, in my opinion, was an asset to Lee County when he served on the commission, and I know he will be again. Because of his qualifications and desire to serve, I am withdrawing my candidacy for re-election. I look forward to his service to citizens of our district and all of Lee County.”

In the Georgia House 151 race, Republican Gerald Greene of Cuthbert picked up a challenger in Democrat Ezekiel Holley, who qualified for the seat Friday in Atlanta. The pastor of Zion Hope Missionary Baptist Church, Holley was also the president of the Terrell County NAACP for 20 years before stepping down to run against Greene.

“I chose to run because I’ve been living in this district all of my life and there are important issues facing us,” Holley said. “Issues like agriculture and our farmers. We also need to look at our education system and do something about these furlough days. I am also concerned about proper housing in the district.

“I’m concerned that people are working two or three jobs and still can’t make ends meet. I really just want to improve the quality of life for the people in District 151 and all across the state.”

As expected, incumbent Dougherty County Commissioners Gloria Gaines and John Hayes qualified to run for seats on the commission, although Gaines gave up her District 5 seat to challenge for the commission chairmanship. Jeff Sinyard, who has held that seat for the past 11 years, announced in late January that he would not seek re-election.

“I see this as an opportunity to listen to, to get to know and to interact with new people,” Gaines, who would be the first black and first female to hold the seat if elected, said. “I don’t presume that my challenge will be successful because I know (challenger) Chris (Cohilas) is going to put everything he has into the race. But I intend to work hard as well.

“The people in the community have been very receptive to my candidacy thus far, and I want to assure them I will do everything I can to earn the privilege of serving them. I’m excited about this challenge; I just feel it’s a wonderful exercise of democracy.”

In what has become a rarity for this election cycle, Hayes was the only incumbent among the four incumbent county commissioners whose seats are up for re-election who did not draw opposition.

“I’ve talked often about letting your words and your actions speak for themselves,” Hayes said moments after completing qualifying requirements. “I want to continue the work that we’ve started with this board, and from that standpoint I’m elated to have this opportunity. I take (drawing no opposition) as a signal that the people in District 2 are confident I’m working on their behalf, and I consider it a privilege to continue my service.

“I feel that this board has worked hard as a team, over the last four years especially, to get us through this challenging economy, and we’ll continue to work to make things better.”

Hayes joined fellow Commissioner Jack Stone, who is being challenged for his District 6 seat by newcomer Anthony Jones, in endorsing Gaines.

“I’d like to see Gloria take that seat because I believe she’s worked hard to prove herself as a capable leader,” Hayes said. “She cares about the community, and she’s become a big part of it. I know I can work with whoever takes the lead on the commission, but I believe Gloria deserves a chance to hold that position.”

Political newcomer Shirlette Davis-Marcus spent a few anxious moments during qualifying seeking a ruling as to whether new state election laws impacted her planned candidacy. Davis-Marcus, who qualified to run for the Dougherty County District 6 School Board seat being relinquished by Darrel Ealum, works for the Mitchell County School system, and state law says that no person who works for a local school system can represent that system.

John White, a member of the State Democratic Party Committee, said Davis-Marcus is clearly eligible to run for the Dougherty post.

“She can’t be a part of the Mitchell County School Board because she works for that school system (as a technology instructor),” White said. “But she is a citizen of Dougherty County and in no way is disqualified from seeking a seat on that county’s School Board.”

Dougherty Democratic Party Chairwoman Constance Burkes said she’d also sought a ruling from Dougherty School Board Attorney Tommy Coleman, who agreed that the law does not exclude Davis-Marcus.

“My primary concern is for our students,” the District 6 candidate said. “I work in public education, and my kids are receiving an education in our public schools. I believe it is our duty to make our students aware that they need a strong education in order to survive.

“Being a part of the School Board will help me to understand the way decisions are made on behalf of our students. And the primary question I have is are we doing everything we can as a school system to serve our young people? The entire system must start working as a team to better serve our students, and I believe everyone must be held accountable for their actions.”

The final candidate to qualify Friday came in the Lee County District 1 School Board race when Bob Usry tossed his hat into the ring to face David Brokamp. The two will meet in the Republican primary with the winner replacing long-time board member Robert Clay, who decided last week not to seek re-election.

Usry did not return a call seeking comment.