DeKalb County Commissioner, District 1

Our pick: Wendy Butler

Until August, Elaine Boyer was DeKalb County's longest-serving commissioner. She represented cities such as Brookhaven, Chamblee, and Dunwoody for more than two decades as DeKalb County Commissioner, District 1. She was abruptly forced to resign because she was about to be indicted for using taxpayer money for personal expenses. A special election for the right-leaning district has led to a last-minute, five-person rumble featuring Atlanta land-use attorney Wendy Butler, retired Brookhaven engineer Larry Danese, Dunwoody actuarial consultant Nancy Jester, Doraville military veteran Tom Owens, and retired Stone Mountain state employee Holmes Pyles.

Considering Boyers' screw-up, it's no surprise that all five candidates are vowing to push for ethics reform. But who can actually do the job beyond that? Jester has the most name recognition, having formerly served on DeKalb's education board, and she describes herself as a "fiscal hawk." She lost her bid earlier this year to become the GOP's school superintendent nominee and has become a perennial candidate. Butler, until recently, served in leadership positions with MARTA, State Road and Tollway Authority, and the DeKalb Planning Commission. She also played an important role in incorporating Brookhaven and could bring insight to the county's cityhood debate, though we imagine on which side she'd fall. Danese, who twice ran against Boyer for the commission seat, wants to focus on the nitty-gritty of improving public services and infrastructure. Owens claims to be the race's staunchest ethics watchdog, but his strong anti-immigrant stance is a big turnoff. Well, that and the protective order he sought against a local journalist who dared write an unflattering profile about him this fall. Pyles? He's a kind-hearted independent who means well but lacks a coherent platform.

We're not particularly excited about any of these candidates. Butler seems the most capable of the lot, given her land-use work in a county desperate for economic development. The downside? Boyer appointed her to the planning commission. "Never when I was Elaine's appointee did she tell me how to vote," says Butler, who says she earned the gig through her longtime neighborhood activism: "She let me do my job, and I let her do her job." Her ties to Boyer are a slight cause for concern, but not enough to scare us off, given the rest of her background.

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