Accusations fly in District 4 runoff debate between Sutton and Bradshaw
By Keaton Lamle, contributor
A runoff debate between Incumbent District 4 Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton and challenger Steve Bradshaw took place Thursday night, June 30, at the New Bethel AME Church in Lithonia.
The evening— hosted by the Lambda Epsilon Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and moderated by former state senator Steen Miles— marked a rare public meeting between the candidates. Sutton avoided public forums in the run up to the May 24 primary. Days before the vote, the embattled Sutton distributed what many are calling a racially-charged mailer featuring Bradshaw’s wife, who is white.
Throughout the evening Bradshaw, who bested Sutton by more than 500 votes on May 24, emphasized a message of change, stressing Dekalb County’s less-than-stellar reputation as a contrast to his promise of “integrity” and “accountability.”
“Nobody wants to locate their business in a county filled with corruption,” Bradshaw said. “We have to clean that up…my sense is that there is something up with the way contracts get put together in this county.”
Sutton, who has faced multiple accusations of unethical behavior, called questions regarding her integrity “empty allegations,” arguing that FBI audits of Dekalb County exonerated her of wrongdoing while sending other officials to prison.
In response, Bradshaw drew his biggest applause of the night:
“If our litmus test (for quality government) is, ‘We’re not in jail yet so everything must all be okay,’ then we need a new litmus test,” he said.
The audience seemed frustrated by recent scandals. Sutton’s allusions to her track record and trustworthiness were met with audible snickers and a show of hostility. A couple of attendees stood and turned their back on Sutton during an answer to questions regarding her recent lawsuit against the Dekalb Country Ethics Board. It’s litigation many believe to be partially motivated by a desire to stall examination of ethical complaints against Sutton herself.
The incumbent’s supporters attempted to deflect suspicion onto Bradshaw with a series of crowd-sourced questions regarding his real estate holdings. They accused Bradshaw and “some supporters” of being “under investigation” by unspecified agencies for activities pertaining to land trusts. A bemused Bradshaw said, “There is no investigation. That is a lie.”
Commissioner Sutton devoted her final remarks to emphasizing what says is a disparity between Bradshaw’s ideology and that of the District 4 constituency.
“Republicans support him,” Sutton said. “Everything I’ve stated is true. He did write a letter to George Bush, his commander-in-chief, but the real commander-in-chief was Barack Obama, who bestowed honor onto so many people during the Civil Rights Movement. He couldn’t write a letter to the real commander-in-chief because it’s a pattern of disrespect to the current President commander-in-chief. When you look at his Facebook friends and hear the evil things they say about everybody, that tells you who he is.”
Bradshaw said he has written letters to both President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, he felt that the rest of Sutton’s speech, “Speaks for itself.”
Voters will decide the runoff between Sutton and Bradshaw on July 26.