In Democratic dreams, Snellville is the toehold of a comeback

In her effort to become the first female mayor of Snellville, 34-year-old attorney Kelly Kautz was at something of a disadvantage.

Her opponent, Barbara Bender, a certified public accountant, was upfront about her Republican connections. In GOP-dominated Gwinnett County, this is usually considered a foolproof strategy.

When pressed about her own party affiliation during a fractious campaign, Kautz declared herself to be an independent, a status upheld by her voting history. She’s always been a general election voter – and has never cast a ballot in either a Democratic or Republican primary.

Snellville Mayor Kelly Kautz

Snellville Mayor Kelly Kautz

So it was something of a surprise when, two days after Kautz had pulled an upset with 52 percent of the vote, the state Democratic party declared her contest to be its biggest Election Day victory.

Kautz says no subterfuge was involved in her claim to non-alliance. “I still stand by that. In today’s time, I don’t think anybody’s ideology should be pigeon-holed into any label. Being an attorney, I’m more socially liberal. On fiscal issues, I’m more conservative,” she said.

State Democratic chairman Mike Berlon said he hasn’t totaled up the money spent on the Snellville race – and contests in a number of other cities across the state. But robo-calls and mailers were part of the formula, as well as strategic advice he provided to Kautz.

One fact that may not have received too much exposure during the bitter clash between the two former members of the Snellville city council: Berlon gave Kautz her first job several years ago, as a law clerk in his firm.

“It’s exciting for me to watch someone begin a political career,” Berlon said Friday.

But the Snellville race for mayor has less to do with stealthy tactics and more to do with metro Atlanta’s changing face – and the Democratic party’s search for a way back to influence in Georgia.

Slowly but surely, the northern suburbs closest to I-285 are becoming a jambalaya of voters. Kautz herself is a small example – a native of Gwinnett, but a Catholic who grew up in a Southern Baptist sea.

“When I was growing up, our Catholic church wasn’t even built until I was in elementary school,” she said. Republicans as well as Democrats understand what it all means.

In the 2000 presidential race, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by a 2-to-1 margin in Gwinnett. In 2008, Republican John McCain still beat Barack Obama in the county, but only with 55 percent of the vote.

If anything, Snellville – where African-American and minority voters make up 37 percent of the city’s 10,635 voters — is a step or two behind Gwinnett as a whole when it comes to demographic transformation. Blacks and other minorities make up 43 percent of registered voters in the county.

In addition to open Republican support, Bender received the endorsements of four of five members of the Snellville city council.

Kautz said she had GOP backers as well. “If you look at my campaign disclosures, my biggest monetary contributions came from hardcore Republicans,” she said.

But she needed more. Kautz is not sure whether African-American turnout in the race reached record proportions, but it will be a few weeks before the data becomes available. Even so, the attorney also had to look for votes in untraditional caches – which may soon become quite traditional.

“I had the Arabic group come out. I had Bosnian groups come out. I had kids at South Gwinnett high school going door-to-door for me. Just the whole community came together,” she said.

Wait. Arabic?

Snellville Councilman Mike Sabbagh, an ally whom Kautz named mayor pro tem last week, is of Middle Eastern descent and brought his friends to the polls, she explained. “And I knocked on a door of a family from Bosnia, and they have a Bosnian-American group that I went and spoke to. All demographics came out,” she said.

Berlon said the aim of Democrats was to boost the turnout of their voters by 5 percent. In Snellville, they were able to juice the vote by 10 to 15 percent, he estimated.

“That shows that we know how to do it. It’s all fundamentals,” said the chairman of a party that no longer controls any statewide office. “Within two or three election cycles, Gwinnett becomes a Democratic county. The voters are there. You’ve just have to reach out and get them. The trick is the size of the county and the resources you have to pour in to make it work.”

Snellville, in a larger scheme, becomes a toehold. If Democrats in Georgia are ever to be competitive again, Berlon said, they will first have to take Gwinnett, and then Cobb County – a tougher nut to crack. Together, the two suburban giants made up 15 percent of the vote in 2008.

“But when Cobb and Gwinnett flip, that’s when a statewide comeback becomes possible,” he said.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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126 comments Add your comment

JacketFanMarcus

November 19th, 2011
10:44 am

Times they are ‘a-changing” in Gwinnett…

Little Engine

November 19th, 2011
10:46 am

It will be refreshing to get some Democrats back in the mix. Too many from either party are not good for the future of our State. Tom Murphy took it too far and now it has swung too far the other way to a group that believes they should dictate our faith and what we believe. Go back to work on the economic health of Georgia and I will decide what my Christian beliefs are.

Darwin

November 19th, 2011
10:51 am

What – you don’t want to have to opt out of having In God We Trust on your license plate? You know, that’s from the small government party.

Corrie Clay

November 19th, 2011
11:05 am

I wonder how the conservative republicans are feeling about Kautz’s stealth help from the democrats. I’m not buying that she has any allegiance to anybody but the demo’s. I know a whole bunch of people in Snellville who think they were duped by Kautz and they are not happy about it. Bender, who stated who she was and what she stood for can at least be proud of being honest. Unfortunately I went to vote and was told I didn’t live in the City limits. But I would have voted for Bender. I’m sure lots of others have wished now that they had.

Karen Scarpo

November 19th, 2011
11:08 am

Kelly Kautz is an independent, and I’m a puerto rican short stop.

yellowdog

November 19th, 2011
11:22 am

tunnel vision; if she works to make a better snellville, hooray for her. and franky, who cares what the conservatives think. rock on madam mayor.

SAWB

November 19th, 2011
11:24 am

It does seem a little dishonest for the Democrat Party to pull something like this, but hey it worked. Overall a two party system is really a good thing, but so is honestly. What Gwinnett really needs are fiscal conservatives with no allegiance to national parties or property developers.

Danforth Snail

November 19th, 2011
11:43 am

“It does seem a little dishonest for the Democrat Party to pull something like this.”

What? Win an election?

Jackie

November 19th, 2011
11:54 am

Another stealth candidate who lied about who she really is to hold office. Her momma would be so proud…

PoliSci Grad Student

November 19th, 2011
11:56 am

Gwinnett is already gone for the Republicans. The county’s minority population is surging and the whites that are moving out are mostly of the conservative Republican variety meaning that the white voter base is actually becoming more moderate over time. The only major GOP county left in this state is Cobb, which I agree will be tough for the Dems to crack mainly because the county is more established and much of the county is really only affordable to the upper middle/upper class – a demographic that Republicans continue to do well with. Thus Cobb is more polarized than Gwinnett in that you have areas that continue to be heavily white/Republican and areas that are heavily black/Democratic whereas in Gwinnett it seems the changing demographics are hitting every part of the county. As a result, the Republican baseline vote (i.e. white Republican vote) in Cobb currently is probably around 53% (not much lower than McCain’s percentage) or so whereas in Gwinnett the Republican baseline is only around 37% or so (which suggests that Democrats have lots of potential here). I think Forsyth, being so close to Fulton and Gwinnett, is in the early stages of a political transformation as well – the county’s demographics are also changing pretty rapidly.

yellowdog

November 19th, 2011
12:02 pm

hey “Jackie”: Republicans do it all the time – ie. lie about who they are……..now its offensive? get a grip.

Elliott C

November 19th, 2011
12:10 pm

To me Kelly Kautz is the perfect Democrat. She will say anything to get elected. Snellville voters were fooled pure and simple. If she is a Democrat that’s okay. But she should be honest and say so. She says she has hardcore Republican supporters. I hope they understand that when they supported a Democrat that will wash off on them. If you are a Republican would you vote for someone who spent money to support a Democrat? The Democrats are all happy that they got so many people out to vote. Now the other voters have a mayor who was elected because people who don’t really care about the city voted because they someone told them stuff they wanted to hear., I hope everyone wakes up. Republican or Democrat is not as important as honest versus dishonest. I hope the new mayor does good things but I’m worried.

There is a sickness in GA

November 19th, 2011
12:14 pm

This is an interesting blog post, but Democrats should not just focus on being relevant in the Atlanta metro region. They need to keep working towards being a statewide party again and building their brand in all parts of GA. Given the brutal reapportionment and voter disenfranchisement this last round of redistricting has/will generate/d, Democrats probably won’t be truly competitive for another decade, but they need to keep up the fight and present a reasonable alternative to the coming conservative, one party “dictatorship.”

Real Athens

November 19th, 2011
1:03 pm

Why anyone would cast a ballot (at the local level) solely on the basis of an R, D, L or I next to the name of the candidate is beyond reason.

The polarization of political parties is what is destroying this country. I challenge you to find a single mention of them in the Constitution.

Darla Dixon - Snellville Today

November 19th, 2011
1:12 pm

I guess the candidate who claimed to not be a politician after all, huh? A bigger issue that citizens here should be concerned about is that within 15 minutes of being sworn in as mayor, Kautz more than appears to have violated the city Charter by her apparent “thank you gift” appointment of Mike Sabbagh to position of mayor pro-tem (same as vice-mayor, for those who don’t know). According to the city charter, the mayor pro-tem must go to a council vote, it cannot be done at sole discretion of the mayor. To many present at the council meeting of November 8th, it appeared that Kautz launched immediately into dictator mode, having just also replaced city attorney not 45 minutes before with an attorney of her own choosing, one who seems handpicked to agree with the mayor on everything and search for codes to support what the mayor wants to do. Pretty scary, in my opinion!

agnes

November 19th, 2011
1:14 pm

@Carrie: Bender got LOTS of help from Republicans and even had doled out some “spoils” thinking she was a shoe in for mayor. SURPRISE! Republicans are BEATABLE.

Independent voter

November 19th, 2011
1:14 pm

Yeah we got a independent in the office. Let me run for office as a independent so I can have the democrat support me and raise money for my campaign.

Republican of Georgia watch out for more independent candidates.

Cutty

November 19th, 2011
1:40 pm

Where did all the ‘compassionate conservatives’ go?

agnes

November 19th, 2011
1:42 pm

Bender wasn’t an independent. She got money and help from Republicans. Quit complain’ . YOU GOT BEAT

nelson

November 19th, 2011
1:53 pm

I fail to see the point, an independent gets elected and that is an indicator that the democratic party is coming back. That is an indicator that sitting on the fence[independent] is coming back, wait and see which way the wind is blowing before casting a vote. Let us face it, politics is for Washington. Gold ole boy palaver is for the rural south. Actually, i knew a guy that was elected to the state senate because he won the milking contest at the stae fair. He lasted for a while until a faster milker came along. Then he entered a cornshucking contest and won and was made head of the state agricluture department.
Now, all anyone needs is to talk the local dialect and that is it.

Independent voter

November 19th, 2011
2:44 pm

Independent voters will kick republican out of the office and have liberal ideas.

Independent voter

November 19th, 2011
2:45 pm

Most independent candidates side with the democrat party.

WillieRae

November 19th, 2011
2:54 pm

Running for office with a bag on your head is hardly the basis for a democrat comeback.

Jackie

November 19th, 2011
2:56 pm

Dems squeal like little pigs about stealth candidates but talk tough when democrats can only win on the sneak.

td

November 19th, 2011
3:24 pm

Real Athens

November 19th, 2011
1:03 pm

So please tell us who the last R or L you voted for?

Real Athens

November 19th, 2011
3:35 pm

Hank Huckaby – R District 113 before he was appointed University System Chancellor this year.

Independent voter

November 19th, 2011
3:52 pm

People are losen jobs and homes in Georgia that why it might turn blue even the rich people losen everything. Georgia have a high poverty rate once the middle class and poor come out to vote it going to show the republican dont take our vote for granted. Democrat and Independent voters in ga will reunite 2012. GA will be a blue state in 2012 election.

Father Quincy

November 19th, 2011
3:53 pm

If the voters had known she was a Christian – and a CATHOLIC! to boot, she would still be trying to garner votes. Strange how anyone who has never cast a primary vote – only in “general elections,” where, of course, there is no one running, ever, as a Democrat or Republican, can call herself Independent.

Centrist

November 19th, 2011
5:33 pm

“I’m more socially liberal. On fiscal issues, I’m more conservative,” she said.

I think I like her.

But this from our Democrat blogger Mr. Jim Galloway simply does not make sense: “the Democratic party’s search for a way back to influence in Georgia.” She said she is an Independent, and had Republican support. He is just parroting the Democratic Party Chairman: “But when Cobb and Gwinnett flip, that’s when a statewide comeback becomes possible,” he said.

Wishful thinking. “If wishes were horses then beggars would ride”.

SAWB

November 19th, 2011
7:31 pm

The Democrats have been running Fulton, DeKalb and Atlanta for decades and now people are fleeing because they cannot afford to live there. So, they move to Gwinnett where Republicans have built a school System, water & sewer system, roads, libraries, parks, emergency services and just about anything that a municipal government does that is of higher quality than Fulton, DeKalb and Atlanta. All of these superior services are being provided at a lower cost than in the previously mentioned municipalities. So, the desire to move to Gwinnett seems very logical.

However, what seems irrational is that as these folks flee the failed Democrat municipalities the first thing they do is vote for the same old failed Democrat ideas that caused them to relocate to Gwinnett in the first place. Oh well no one said you had to be logical to vote…

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

November 19th, 2011
7:48 pm

Cobb County may not necessarily be as far out of play as most may seem to think as many of the conservative young professionals and best and brightest up-and-comers in the conservative movement are looking over Cobb and are now moving into farther out newer suburbs and exurbs like Paulding and, especially, Cherokee County.

Also, in the 2010 GOP Gubernatorial Primary, Cobb overwhelmingly supported Karen Handel, a moderate Republican over Nathan Deal, himself a former Democrat.

The rash of Democrats turning Republican to stay in office across Georgia outside of Metro Atlanta means that the Republican Party in Georgia isn’t as stridently conservative on all social and fiscal issues as one might expect it to be.

Because many of the Republicans in power in Georgia are former Democrats or are already moderate in nature with suburban Atlanta being the base of power for the party that now controls all of state government, many Georgia Republicans, especially in Metro Atlanta, are either fiscally conservative and socially liberal or are socially conservative and fiscally liberal making them out-and-out just plain moderate.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

November 19th, 2011
8:02 pm

The fact that many Republicans in Metro Atlanta are moderates who may personally be left-of-center on many fiscal and social issues also may not necessarily make it as easy for Democrats to make inroads in Gwinnett and, eventually, Cobb as they may think.

The Republicans that run those rapidly-changing suburban counties are not necessarily of the Bible-toting variety, especially in Gwinnett, where running too far to the right may turn-off a suburban constituency for whom the word “conservative” sometimes may be nothing more than a hot-and-trendy political term to proclaim oneself that plays it safe when conversing in social circles with fellow suburbanites.

Atlanta Native

November 19th, 2011
8:54 pm

It’s actually hard for me to see Democrats going anywhere but up in this state over the next few election cycles. I agree with everyone here that Gwinnett likely will quickly fall into Democratic hands by virtue of its demographics alone – expect Obama to take this county in 2012 with about 55% of the vote. Something else to consider is that many of the once hyper Republican exurbs on the southside are falling into Democratic hands as well – Rockdale, Newton, Douglas and soon Henry and perhaps Fayette (exodus from Clayton) are also seeing huge gains in Democratic registration. Once these counties start voting Democratic it’s easy to see the playbook for a Democratic comeback.

The northwestern suburbs are the Republican’s bright spot within metro Atlanta imo. Cherokee, Paulding, Bartow (essentially the counties that ring Cobb) seem securely Republican. Cobb itself probably will stay in GOP hands given the fact that many parts of it remain demographically stable (read: heavily Republican) but it is the last large GOP bastion left in the metro area and if that county falls, I think Republicans would be hard pressed to make up the deficit elsewhere because they’re already maxed out in the rural and exurban areas.

pauline

November 19th, 2011
9:03 pm

Deal was a good honest man until he switched parties.

over it

November 19th, 2011
9:06 pm

I haven’t heard one good thing about this woman yet…

REAL American

November 19th, 2011
9:25 pm

I only vote for a candidate if they have an R behind their names.

SallyForth

November 19th, 2011
9:34 pm

The Democratic Party shouldn’t start a victory dance just now. This was an Independent candidate – no political party label was on the ballot. People voted for the person and no party. Let’s see how people vote when there is a big D after a candidate’s name….

Ciyonceshia

November 19th, 2011
9:51 pm

I lived in Snellville years ago when it was a middle class white, respectable place. Recently drove over there to check out the new Academy store. Oh my God. It was like I’d arrived in Tijuana-Zimbabwe. No doubt the Dems will do well there, that’s their core constituency.

Markus Justice

November 19th, 2011
10:01 pm

Time to move, Snellville along with Gwinnett will go the way of Dekalb country and in 10 years will be crime infested and have deplorable property values. The sad thing is minorities move away from the messes like Dekalb county then vote for the same people (Democrats) they ran away from and expect get eventually get the same goverence they moved away from. Insanity.

Going Right

November 19th, 2011
10:12 pm

To all who are licking their chops about Gwinnett County going Democratic, you should be happy to know that most God-gearing, independent thinkers who have worked hard for their money, have bought homes (without help from Freddie Mae Or Mac) and are hearing the footsteps of the Hispanics and Africans at their door are slowly leaving and moving out of Gwinnett. Count me as one who has his house on the market and will, no doubt, lose my a$$ on it; however, that beats having my hard-earned money grabbed by the new county government that is bound to get voted in. Think not? Stick around for the “diversifiers” who are coming in who will vote Democratic for hell or high water. That means Gwinnett will slowly have more taking out of the County treasury than those putting in. What happens then? HA HA, guess what? They will find out that money does not grow on trees and will scream for the “few haves” to fork over more taxe money to keep them going.

I’ve lived in eleven different cities in Americca – all run by Democratic control and all EVERY LAST ONE is currently in the hole because of liberal handouts, no tax base and taxes that are being flushed (literally) down the hole. One of them is Harrisburg, PA. Go on Google for Harrisburg, PA” and see what Atlanta and Gwinnett are heading in the direction for.

honested

November 19th, 2011
10:35 pm

going right,

Boo hoo

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, good riddance!

Paddy O

November 19th, 2011
10:47 pm

the inept & arrogant Republican party is ripe for the picking. But, the Dems have had a decade of declining organization. You would be better off starting from scratch. What you need is fiscal & socially conservative dixiecrats who also desire to assist the blue collar worker, who is getting screwed to death by the federal government.

REAL American

November 19th, 2011
10:52 pm

Minorities ruin EVERYTHING.

Paddy O

November 19th, 2011
10:53 pm

The old GA democrats under Tom Murphy were fiscally shrewed and exceptionally conservative socially. But, arrogance & the flag got Ole Tom, Rat Roy and bagged the whole dumb bunch – I believe that was 2002. Since then, some idiot Democrats have tried running for Senate – Baker, Thurmond & Majette (what BSer was she listening too?), leaving the state completely barren of statewide Democrats (even Tommy Irvin is gone). You won’t get liberal dems from the urban areas elected state wide. You MUST have a new crop of Tom Murphy type dems, or TEA partiers. The personhood amendment has a very good chance of passing here.

Paddy O

November 19th, 2011
10:55 pm

This crop of repubs running the show have demonstrated they are pretty inept, divorced from real leadership, and absent ethics. That won’t keep them in office, and GAians generally want at least competence from their statewide leaders. The next 2-5 election cycles will be very telling.

Rick in Grayson

November 19th, 2011
11:00 pm

It will be justice served for the Republicans (local, state, and those elected to Congress) who have failed to vote for measures like mandated E-Verify to deny jobs to illegal aliens here in Gwinnett County. We have been invaded by illegals that have increased costs for local school districts and decreased the quality of K-12 educations. Look at the Gwinnett County school website to ponder on the large percentage of non-English speakers in our schools.

Many of the construction sites are employing illegal aliens to the detriment of local US citizens. Check out the large numbers of foreclosures in Gwinnett County, we are leading all counties in the metro-Atlanta area.

Once the Democrats take power we can look forward to an increase in the population wanting a government handout. Gwinnett County is becoming a cesspool. Read the local newspapers and someone who has lived here for any length of time can see the increase in local crime.

Republicans have done nothing to stop the invasion of illegals into Gwinnett County. They have too many employer buds who want to exploit the cheap illegal labor at the expense of local taxpayers. Georgia is in the top 10 states in the number of resident illegal aliens and Gwinnett is a destination county for illegal aliens. Drug cartels have setup shop in Gwinnett and they hide amongst the large illegal alien population. The future of Gwinnett County looks grim indeed.

Karen Scarpo

November 19th, 2011
11:01 pm

The truth of the matter is this. Kautz’s win was a freak accident that will not be repeated. The republican party did not spend one dime in this race, while the Dem’s spent thousands. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. As for her “republican contributors”, she skunked you too. The price you will pay for supporting this turncoat will be immeasurable. The republican party will make sure of that. If they don’t the colossal fiasco that is about to surround Kautz will.

honested

November 19th, 2011
11:18 pm

karen scarpo,

You can ignore the handwriting on the wall, but it isn’t going away.

Bye Bye Snellville

November 19th, 2011
11:21 pm

Karen, by the time the next election rolls around Snellville will be majority black and hispanic and Kautz will be a shoo-in as long unless she faces someone with a D next to his/her name. All this election did was accelerate the timeline for Snellville’s Dekalbization.

wow

November 19th, 2011
11:23 pm

I’m really not seeing how this woman’s win in Snellville can be considered a decisive victory for GA Democrats if she is a self proclaimed Independent. How sad.