For 20 years, Democratic state Sen. Vincent Fort represented the residents of the state’s 39th Senate District.
Now, five candidates are vying for the seat Fort left vacant in August when he signed up to run for Atlanta mayor.
Four Democrats and one Republican hope to represent the predominately black district that stretches from Buckhead to South Fulton.
The long district has 170,000 residents and spans an economically diverse string of neighborhoods. While the average annual household income is about $44,000 according to U.S. Census data, the gap between what the district’s poorest and richest residents make is vast, ranging from those earning as little as $8,000 a year to others living in million dollar homes.
That disparity means residents in different neighborhoods have different needs.
“In areas like Vine City, there’s a lot of blight that was caused when houses were foreclosed on and people had to move out, but the banks didn’t have to maintain the properties,” said Democratic candidate Linda Pritchett, who lives in South Fulton.
“There are also areas in the northern most part of the district like Buckhead or around Georgia Tech where they’re mostly worried about maintaining a strong economy, having quality education, and things like that,” said Pritchett, aparalegal.
This is Pritchett’s fourth attempt at public office. She ran twice for state representative and once for South Fulton City Council. The Cuban-American is originally from New York and has lived in the Atlanta area for 12 years.
First-time candidate Nikema Williams, a Democrat who has lived in the Atlanta area for 15 years, said the fact the district is so sprawling is proof of the need to address the way districts are drawn. She said she would tackle that issue right away if elected.
“None of the other issues I care about can be addressed until we do something with redistricting,” the Vince city resident said. “Voters have brought it up to me that they think it’s crazy how long the district is.”
Williams, is the vice president of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast and serves as first vice chairwoman of the Georgia Democratic Party. She said she respects Fort’s public service, but she has a different approach to getting things done.
“Fort has always been a strong progressive advocate at the Capitol,” the Alabama native said. “I don’t look to mimic his approach, but I plan to continue to fight for marginalized people.”
Democrat Elijah Tutt said he resigned from his job as an assistant human resources director for Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management earlier this year to focus on running his first campaign.
The lifelong Atlantan who lives in the Cascade neighborhood said he would target issues that can improve the lives of some of the poorer residents in the diverse district.
Specifically, he said he wants to work to increase the minimum wage, expand public transportation and study the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, where students at times are arrested for what can be considered minor infractions.
Buckhead Republican Nick Carlson, a commercial real estate agent, said once he saw that only Democrats had filed to run , he wanted to give conservative voters in the district an option.
“Sen. Fort is a very nice man,” the Peachtree Corners native said. “We just don’t agree on politics. He’s a Democrat and I’m a Republican and I’d prefer a Republican represent the district.”
Carlson said he plans to make sure residents aren’t burdened with high taxes.
Julie Sharp, who has lived in the southern part of the district for 30 years said the tax rate is an important issue to her.
“We’re retired,” she told Pritchett as the candidate was canvassing her neighborhood Wednesday afternoon. “We’re on a fixed income. We can’t handle a huge jump in property taxes.”
Democratic candidate Marckeith DeJesus did not respond to requests to speak with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for this article.