Second black county commissioner elected in Fayette

Fayette County residents in the northern part of the county made history again Tuesday, electing the second black person to represent them on the county commission.

Charles Rousseau, a retired Fulton County government administrator, will fill the unexpired term of the late Fayette County Commissioner Pota Coston. Coston, the first black person ever elected to the county commission, died July 3 after only six months in office. Rousseau will serve as District 5 commissioner until 2019.

Rousseau, a Democrat, garnered 2,268 - 70.13 percent - of the 3,237 votes cast in Tuesday’s election. Angela Bean, an independent graphic artist and Republican and local Tea Party member, got 650 or 20 percent of the votes while Republican Peyton Riley, who sells insurance and investments for a local company, got 312 votes or 9.65 percent.

“I will do my level-best to adequately serve the residents of Fayette County,” Rousseau told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday night. “It’s a victory for the county, as a whole, but particularly District 5.” Rousseau ran for county commission in 2006 and lost under the countywide voting at the time.

“The cohesiveness of the African-American community in District 5 was nothing less than spectacular,” Fayette NAACP president John E. Johnson said.”We take a 71 percent vote in favor of Charles Rousseau as a resounding affirmation that the people of District 5 have been given the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice.”

Tuesday’s race was a highly-watched election that is at the heart of a larger four-year-old legal fight between the county and the NAACP and a group of black residents over how Fayette elects its county leaders. Black residents have said at-large voting was biased and kept them from being able to get elected to county office.

Coston’s death threw into question whether her successor would be chosen using at-large or district voting. U.S. Judge Timothy Batten put the issue to rest last month ruling that only residents who live in District 5 could elect Coston’s successor. That ruling essentially mandated that the county use district voting for the special election - the same method used when Coston was elected last fall. Batten ordered Fayette to adopt a plan two years ago that called for the creation of five districts including the mostly-black District 5. But the county appealed that plan and earlier this year an appeals court sent the case back to Batten for a trial, which will be held in November.

Rousseau said Tuesday continuing to fight over the county’s voting system, which has cost the county and NAACP about $1 million each so far, “is a tad bit irresponsible.”

“It needs to be addressed,” he said. “If we all sit down and try to resolve it, I think we can. We need to have some honest, open discussion to see if continuing down that path is appropriate and wise.”

As the newest commissioner, Rousseau, 54, will bring some diversity to the all-white Republican board and will serve as a tie-breaker for the commission, which has been locked in recent months in 2-2 split votes. Once sworn-in, Rousseau could join the four other commissioners as soon as the next board meeting on Sept. 24.

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