In a race that pitted an established politician against a community activist, John Ernst coasted to a second term as Brookhaven’s mayor in the Nov. 5 election, defeating challenger Jen Heath with nearly 68% of the vote, according to unofficial results.
Madeleine Simmons will join the City Council representing District 3 with an easy victory over Dimitrius Owens for the seat left open after Bates Mattison decided not to seek reelection. Simmons garnered more than 80% of the vote, according to unofficial results.
Ernst’s campaign focused on promises to increase green space, protecting the city’s tree canopy, achieving balanced growth, creating a walkable community and keeping taxes low. Heath ran a campaign critical of Ernst and his administration, accusing it of secrecy and a lack of fiscal responsibility. She promised she would bring more transparency to city government that included more community input.
Ernst said his victory was a “mandate” that the city is on the right path.
“It’s a great victory and I thank the citizens of Brookhaven for the confidence for another four years,” Ernst said at an election party held at Kaleidoscope Bistro & Pub on Dresden Drive.
Among those attending Ernst’s party were Linley Jones, who ran unopposed in her reelection for the District 1 council seat; Councilmember John Park; Planning Commission Chair Stan Segal; and Pink Pony attorney Aubrey Villines.
Ernst said he planned to continue to focus on city basics like paving, parks and police. He said he also would continue his strategy of taking a regional approach on transportation needs by working with other governments to find ways to alleviate traffic congestion in Brookhaven and surrounding cities.
“I want to just keep taking care of the basics that Brookhaven needs as we started as a city and moving forward,” he said. “I think it’s a great mandate for what we’ve been able to do.”
Heath held a small watch party at the Bat & Ball Pub on Johnson Ferry Road. As a community activist, Heath said she originally challenged Ernst so he would have an opponent. But that changed after the support she received, she said, after talking to other mayors and doing some “soul searching.”
“I decided, yes, I was ready to be mayor,” she said.
“We were definitely the underdog,” she said. “We were outspent and ‘out-efforted’ and I think we held our own pretty damn well … we ran an exemplary campaign on our own terms.”
Heath said she wanted her candidacy to be seen as a way to open up a dialogue about residents’ desires for what they believe should be more transparency at City Hall.
“It has become the policy of the city to engage with certain members who have a similar idea of what the future calls for Brookhaven,” she said. “But when the regular, average citizen tries to participate they are referred to as an angry mob or a loud minority.
“By standing up and offering to run for mayor then some of residents who felt hesitant to speak up realize that every resident has the same ability as I do,” Heath said. “And they can go to City Hall and they can have these conversations and they can demand to be heard.”
Ernst disagreed with Heath’s and her supporters’ criticisms of the city, calling a lot of it “untrue.”
“I’m glad the voters saw through their misstatements and embellishments and I look forward to another four years,” he said. “I’m disappointed how their bitterness tried to divide the community and I’m glad the community stayed united and moved forward.”
District 3 Council race
In a Facebook post, Simmons, the District 3 City Council victor, thanked residents for their votes and support.
“I am looking forward to continuing the great conversations we started during my campaign. I’ll have more in the days to come but wanted to quickly thank my family, volunteers, campaign team, and all of you – my wonderful neighbors!” she said.
Brookhaven voters also overwhelmingly approved two referendums, one to boost the city’s homestead exemption from $20,000 to $40,000 over the next five years; and a second homestead exemption to provide residents age 65 and older and those with disabilities who make less than $15,000 a year an additional $14,000 exemption.
A DeKalb County-wide referendum on restructuring the county ethics board was defeated with more than 61% of the vote, according to unofficial results from the DeKalb County Board of Registration & Elections.