Stonecrest voters oust councilman, continue to elect women to lead city

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Jimmy Clanton Jr. (left), Tara Graves

By Zachary Hansen

Incumbent said his downfall was his inability to separate himself from the city’s embattled mayor, who currently faces federal charges

Residents in DeKalb County’s most populous city voted for a new leader to join the city’s ranks.

Tara Graves, an Army veteran who works in healthcare, routed incumbent Jimmy Clanton Jr. during Tuesday’s runoff for the city’s District 1 seat. With 68% of the vote, Graves became the city’s third councilwoman. They join acting City Manager Janice Allen Jackson, giving Stonecrest a female majority of office holders for the first time.

“Hopefully it’ll mean something great,” Graves told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday morning. “We can come together as women and see how we can turn things around.”

Stonecrest, founded in 2017, has had a tumultuous year. Jason Lary, the city’s first mayor, is entangled in a federal fraud case where he’s charged with stealing more than $650,000 in COVID-19 relief funds. He pleaded not guilty and hasn’t resigned — instead continuing to attack other city leaders.

The alleged fraud scheme prompted the firing of several city staff members, a series of internal investigations and lots of negative headlines.

Graves said her mission as the only new elected official is to listen to the current council, learn the ropes and see how the five-member council can work together as a team.

“We have a lot of negativity going on, and we want people not to look at Stonecrest as a sore thumb, so to say,” she said.

Clanton, who attempted to distance himself from Lary once the race proceeded to a runoff, said the controversies were too much for him to overcome. He told the AJC on Wednesday that “not being able to separate myself from a matter of perspective from the mayor and his misconduct” was his undoing.

He added that low voter turnout did him no favors. Less than 6% of District 1 residents cast ballots in the runoff — a figure the city of Tucker nearly tripled in its own council runoff.

“We got to figure out a way to get the community more engaged on a local level,” he said. “We have a small group of people who are super engaged, and then you have a larger group that are not quite as engaged … either they don’t feel it would make a difference or they feel everything is OK.”

Graves said she’s already had conversations with Jazzmin Cobble and Tammy Grimes, councilwomen who won their reelection bids this election cycle, and she looks forward to working to move beyond Stonecrest’s recent scandals.

“I’m just hoping we can get past personal issues and work together as a team and know that it’s not just about us,” Graves said. “It’s about doing what’s best for the city and the community.”

Read the original story on AJC.com.