Derek Vogel held his Asian fusion sandwich during a recent overcast Food Truck Thursday at Brook Run Park. His impression of Dunwoody before moving here just over a year ago is that it is a respectable place and the residents are especially proud to have become a city.
But when state Rep. Tom Tayolor (R-Dunwoody) made headlines for his April 7 DUI arrest in Rabun County, Vogel said he questioned what he believed about the city.
“I feel the city has this good reputation and then to suddenly have this on the news, and everywhere on the news, is a black eye for the community,” Vogel said. “I understand people have problems and I’m glad he is seeking treatment. This definitely speaks for his making bad decisions.”
Vogel knows about Taylor’s long history with Dunwoody – as a founding member of the city who served on the first City Council before being elected as the representative for District 79 in the state House of Representatives in 2010. But supporting him in the May 24 primary is now questionable, he said.
“This causes … at least me to be very conflicted,” he said.
Taylor did not respond to requests for an interview. He is charged with DUI, speeding and possession of an open alcohol container. The police report and a dashcam video show he blew .225 on a Breathalyzer – nearly three times the legal limit. He was legally carrying a handgun on his hip and had four teenagers in his back seat when he was stopped. A court hearing is scheduled for May 9 in Clayton Municipal Court.
Taylor recently told WSB-TV he would not fight the charges and also said he is seeking help for a drinking problem.
Taylor issued a statement shortly after news broke about his arrest, saying he “profoundly” regretted the “serious mistake.” He said he would not resign his seat and work every day to build back trust with his constituents.
“This was my first run-in with the law in my life, and it will also be my last. With that in mind, I will demonstrate my remorse not just in words but in my actions,” Taylor said.
Steve Moore of Dunwoody was eating a Cuban sandwich at a recent Food Truck Thursdays and said it is the fact Taylor had teens in his car with him that angers him.
“I think the dashcam video really speaks for itself. He is lying to police and he had a carload of kids. That is not the kind of representation I want for Dunwoody,” Moore said. “While I appreciate he is seeking help, I think it’s time for him step down and to focus on that.”
Cheryl Summers, a longtime Dunwoody resident who served on the same task force with Taylor during the cityhood movement, said she will vote for Taylor in the May 24 primary.
“I think he’s the best candidate for the job. It was a stupid thing, it was a mistake. Yes, he had kids in the car and that made it even dumber,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to legislate.”
‘If he were my client, I would tell him to go knock on doors’
Todd Rehm, a Georgia-based Republican political consultant and editor of GaPundit.com, said his advice for Taylor would be to get in front of people as much as possible.
“If he were my client, I would tell him to go knock on doors. Voters tend to respond to humility,” he said. “We’ve all made mistakes and it’s easier to accept an apology when it’s made in person.”
His case is easier to make for him if constituents hear from him directly, Rehm said, and see him “as a human being” and that he will correct any problems and move forward on a healthy path.
The challenge for a Republican legislator even in a Republican-led chamber is to be effective particularly on local issues, Rehm said. When the DeKalb County delegation is stacked with Democrats it helps that Taylor served at the local level on the City Council.
“That is part of what makes him effective,” Rehm said.
The circumstances surrounding his arrest are “pretty colorful” from a political perspective, Rehm said. “It would have been easier if the incident had been more routine, such as being stopped after having a glass of wine at Longhorn,” Rehm said.
“But Taylor’s got a long history with his constituency, with the movement to found the city, and he has a lot of pre-existing relationships,” Rehm said. “I expect constituents will have a full picture of who he is.”
If he can make the case this is an isolated incident and not repetitive behavior, he can win, Rehm said.
Taylor opponent: ‘I’m not a fringe candidate’
Challenging Taylor in the May 24 primary is Doraville Republican Tom Owens, who has a colorful history himself.
Owens, a Vietnam veteran, ran an unsuccessful campaign for the DeKalb County Commission in 2014. An anti-immigration activist, Owens sued a Doraville mosque in 2013, alleging the mosque led to more traffic, noise, sanitary and storm water backup and noxious odors in his neighborhood.
He doesn’t hold back when talking about Taylor’s arrest.
“I think it’s disgusting. He has a problem,” Owens said. “It’s disgusting he’s done this and there’s no remorse. He should resign because he’s an embarrassment to all of Georgia. Thank God he didn’t kill anyone.”
Owens said he deserves to be considered by voters on May 24.
“I’m not a fringe candidate,” Owens said. “I’ve been in three wars. I know what freedom is about.”
Rehm said he doesn’t see Owens as a threat.
“To beat an incumbent,” Rehm said, “takes a better candidate and a robust campaign. And I don’t think either of those are here.”
There are no Democrats opposing Taylor, so the winner of the May 24 primary would automatically win the race — unless someone else decides to run.
An independent candidate could run in the November general election. Qualifying for independents in state House races runs from June 27 through July 12. An independent candidate must also obtain 5 percent of the signatures of registered voters who voted in the seat’s last election, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
In 2014, there were approximately 30,000 registered voters for House District 79, according to the DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections Office, meaning an independent candidate would need to get about 1,500 signatures from registered voters.
Taylor deserves another chance, say colleagues
Dunwoody Homeowners Association President Robert Wittenstein said he will support Taylor in the election. “Tom has served this community very well and I will support his reelection,” he said.
City Councilmember John Heneghan also is strongly supporting Taylor and said Owens does not deserve to represent Dunwoody in the state in the Gold Dome.
“[I] know Candidate Tom Owen as I have been in numerous meetings with him and I detest the thought of him representing our community!” Heneghan wrote April 23 on his popular blog, Heneghan’s Dunwoody Blog.
Heneghan pointed to Taylor’s championing a bill for the past several years in the legislature to create an independent school system for Dunwoody and his work on legislation that forced DeKalb County to sell its parks in the city for $100 an acre and transfer $7 million in bond funds for Brook Run Park to the city.
“As a fellow Dunwoody City Councilman, Tom Taylor and I have had a long friendship based on mutual respect but when we talked earlier this week I informed him that he needs to regain that level of respect from not only myself but from the entire community and this needs to be done by kicking this habit in order to clear any demons that he may be facing,” Heneghan wrote in his blog.
“Once that is done, I believe Tom Taylor should be reelected to the Georgia Legislature in order to represent us and push the needs of our community within the state Legislature.”
City Councilmember Doug Thompson said he hopes citizens will consider of all Taylor’s work for the community.
“The Tom Taylor I know will get through this and he will be stronger than ever. I hope the citizens of Dunwoody judge him on the actions he has taken for the community so far … and not this one act,” he said.
Here is a police video of Rep. Tom Taylor’s arrest: