At times, Georgia politics can seem like a bipartisan cafeteria of conspiracy theories.
Republicans have Agenda 21. This week, GOP state senators will attend a four-hour seminar at the Capitol to study the link between zoning and a U.N.-backed socialist cabal.
Democrats have Clayton County, where everyone knows that, if you believe in Victor Hill, you must also believe that someone is out to get him.
The former Clayton sheriff won the Democratic primary this summer to reclaim the office he lost to Kem Kimbrough in 2008. Only two things stand between Hill and a January swearing-in: A long-shot write-in candidate and a 37-count indictment, primarily for the misuse of government resources during his flamboyant four years as sheriff.
A trial by a jury that will be drawn, in large part, from the pool of voters that just elected him has been scheduled for Nov. 26.
Hill says it’s all part of a plot. “A lot of people that are involved in illegal activity stand in danger of not being able to make money if I’m sheriff. Everybody knows that,” he said last week.
Since his primary win, Hill has closely rationed his time with local journalists. But on Thursday night, at a local Atlanta night spot, Hill consented to a 30-minute interview for Internet broadcast. You can watch it here.
“Newsmakers” Live is the creation of Jim Welcome. For years, the executive producer’s cameras and lights have moved from club to club, where prominent politicians – most of them African-American — undergo relaxed interviews in front of friendly crowds.
“The secret is where you are,” Welcome said. The Hill interview was at Bar One in Grant Park. The once-and-perhaps-future Clayton sheriff was fronted by a young local R&B crooner who goes by the name of Renegade. He had nice pipes.
When his turn came, Hill was quick to reject all aspersions that have been cast upon the Clayton electorate. “I think we proved that the voters are very intelligent They’re intelligent enough not to listen to the media,” he said.
Prodded by his conservative interviewer, longtime Atlanta radio voice Shelly Wynter, the one-time detective and former state lawmaker declared himself a changed, more mature man. “It’s no different than a good chess game,” Hill said. “I have found better ways to move the pieces to achieve the objective.”
This is no small admission for a fellow who, when he became sheriff in 2005, fired a half-dozen deputies, then posted look-outs on the department’s roof as they exited. The media called them snipers. Hill says they were “observers” – who never actually pointed their weapons at their former colleagues.
”Everyone we fired had guns. We had to take extra precautions,” Hill told his interviewer.
Clayton County has a police department. But while sheriff, Hill rejected a role that restricted him to serving warrants, keeping the jail and protecting the courthouse. He enjoyed comparisons to another unorthodox crime-fighter – Batman – and said it was this reputation that resulted in his victory this summer.
“I’m not going to sit by and watch my county get raped, robbed and murdered, and not do something about it – when I’ve got an army of deputies that can do something,” Hill said.
The 37 counts against Hill include using his county-issued patrol car and county-issued credit card for vacations and requiring the sheriff’s department spokesman to pen his biography. Hill is also accused of transferring money from his campaign bank accounts to businesses he owned, and of writing campaign checks to individuals who would return the money to him.
(“He is essentially taking from himself and therefore cannot be guilty of a crime,” one of his attorneys argued at a hearing last month.)
The grand jury investigation was conducted by a special prosecutor. But Hill has declared that Kimbrough, the outgoing sheriff, and certain unseen forces are behind the charges. “There’s a lot of folks threatened by me being sheriff again,” Hill said. “Who?” Wynter pressed.
“Let’s put it this way. I think it was well publicized that the mob sued me when I was sheriff for trying to close down an establishment that we had proven had drugs and prostitution going on,” Hill said. “We need not mention names. It’s a well-known fact that a well-known politician …was a well-known friend of folks that I was trying to make sure leave Clayton County – so that we could have a higher quality of life.”
The Democratic nominee for sheriff repeatedly jabbed the media for neglecting what he declared to be obvious signs that a railroading is underway. He also expressed disappointment that the civil rights community has not come to his side.
But it is the racketeering charges that prosecutors have tacked on — not uncommon in official malfeasance cases — that appear to sting Hill most. “Now I’m Don Corleone,” Hill said. “If they’ve done that to me, what have they done to other people?”
Hill pledged not to cop a plea, but a single felony conviction would bar him from taking office. Wynter tried to raise that possibility several times, but each time Hill interrupted him. “I feel like Jim Lehrer,” Wynter finally said in defeat.
So what happens if a jury exonerates you and you’re sworn in? Will you fire more deputies? Wynter asked.
“I’ve got to delegate responsibility. Human resources will have to take care of that for me. I didn’t have a human resources program the first time,” Hill replied.
A changed man, indeed.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider