ALBANY — There are those who claim one of the requirements for being a successful politician is a healthy dose of ego.
Don’t count Gloria Gaines among them.
Gaines, who is challenging attorney Chris Cohilas for the chairmanship of the Dougherty County Commission in the May 20 Democratic primary, says her quest for the leadership position of the county government has little to do with self-satisfaction.
“I’m not trying to climb any more ladders,” said Gaines, who served on the Dougherty commission for six years before stepping down to run for the chairmanship after long-time Chairman Jeff Sinyard announced plans not to seek re-election in January. “My personal career is done. I saw this as an obligation and an opportunity to do something more for this community.”
Gaines returned to the county after building a successful career in Atlanta, chiefly as a management-level official with the capital city’s Rapid Transit Authority. During that career she traveled the world extensively, serving as a member of the consulting team that helped the newly independent South African government deal with its newfound leadership responsibilities. She was first elected to the County Commission in 2008 and won re-election four years later.
Now she stands on the brink of history with an opportunity to become the county’s first black and first female commission chair.
“That’s not something I talk about, and it’s not something that people bring up to me,” Gaines said. “What so many people are saying is ‘We’re proud of you. We’re proud that you wanted to come back home and serve the community, and we want you to do this.’
“This community has been on the brink of disaster for the last six years, and now we’re right at the cusp of change that can move us forward. But we’ve got to move past all the superfluous nonsense to move forward. I was in Atlanta in the ’70s and saw all the capital there flee. But look at it now. Atlanta turned around because of enlightened leadership.”
Gaines said that much of her preparation for the chairmanship has come from observing Sinyard in the post.
“Jeff did a fantastic job, and, frankly, if he had decided to run again I would not have run,” she said. “One of the key things I’ve learned is that in terms of policy making, the chair is not the alpha or the omega. The biggest challenge the chair faces is figuring out how to work with the other members of the commission to get the job done. Jeff is great at that.
“I believe you have to have a large degree of selflessness to be effective in the position.”
Gaines said one of her priorities as chairwoman would be to balance the long- and short-term needs of the community.
“On the short-term, there are fiduciary responsibilities that the commission must stay on top of,” she said. “We have to take care of constitutional responsibilities: assessing and collecting taxes, providing services to the county’s taxpayers.
“But we also have to set the foundation for the county’s future. We have to determine what we want this community’s future to look like and start working on it today. We have to work with the other leaders in our community and in our region to put things in motion that will establish that foundation. Up to 40 percent of our sales tax comes from outside the county, but we have to keep our eyes on other communities — the Valdostas, Tiftons and Cordeles — that would come behind us to siphon off what we have.”
Gaines points to educational and economic concerns as crucial to the county’s future.
“We have to work with city leaders, education leaders, business leaders, the chamber, the EDC, all of the stakeholders who have an interest in our community’s future,” she said. “There seems to be a fair amount of everyone going into their own corners and respecting the lines that have been established. But I want us all to meet at the lines. Being territorial is not in my reference.
“Enabling, undergirding, supporting each other … That’s what leadership is.”
Gaines said she’s developed a profound respect for Cohilas during their campaign.
“I don’t refer to him as my opponent,” she said. “I refer to him as a competitor. We’re competing for this job. The mutual respect that we’ve shown during the campaign is genuine, I can assure you. A funny thing: He came late to a forum at the Civil Rights Institute, and I helped him put up his campaign signs.”
Gaines said that one of the things she’s discovered during her campaign is the growing hope in the community. She said elected officials are charged with helping citizens realize those hopes.
“There’s no reason to doubt we can do this,” she said. “There’s no reason to doubt I can help us do this as chairman. I look at this opportunity as a progression of my career. There’s no reason now I shouldn’t step up to the plate and use my gifts, step up and help my community.
“I don’t need anything else; there’s no ego in this. Life’s been good to me. I’m ready now to do God’s will in my life. We have a tendency to always look for someone else to step up to the plate and do what has to be done. At some point, it’s your time to step up. I feel this is my time.”