Updated: Jun 11, 2020
By Joe Johnson
Athens-Clarke County will have a new sheriff after five-term Sheriff Ira Edwards Jr. was narrowly defeated in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
Edwards, who held his position since 2000, was defeated by Athens-Clarke County police Sgt. John Q. Williams by a slim 1-perect margin of 392 votes, according to the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections and Voter Registration Office.
Williams received 9,512 votes and Edwards received 9,120.
The vote totals are preliminary because some mail-in ballots might not have been counted as of Wednesday afternoon. The primary results need to be certified by the county election board’s director.
Alex Vanden Huevel, finance and communications director for Williams’ campaign, said he did not believe there were a sufficient number of outstanding ballots to change the primary’s results.
“At this point we feel confident in our margin,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “We are feeling very good about the support we received from the community and are looking forward as we move toward the general election in November.”
The Williams campaign finally declared victory in a Wednesday evening statement:
“The John Q. Williams for Sheriff campaign is honored to see that a majority of Democratic primary voters have placed their trust in John and his vision for a better Clarke County Sheriff’s Office. We thank Sheriff Edwards for his years of service and for a spirited campaign focused on the issues; we’re looking forward to making our case in the general election against the Republican nominee.
“We see this victory as a mandate for change. As we have seen with events over the past month surrounding the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, there needs to be an honest reckoning of the criminal justice system’s role in our society as well as the systematic discrimination and oppression that needs to be confronted head-on by our community members and elected leaders. We hope to be involved in those conversations over the next phase of this campaign and more than ever, we hope that members of the Clarke County community will reach out to share their concerns, ideas, and thoughts on the Sheriff’s Office and the role that law enforcement plays in our county.”
As the Democratic candidate, Williams will now face off in November’s general election against Republican Robert Hare, a sergeant in the Clarke County Sheriff's Office who was unopposed in his party’s primary.
In his campaign, Williams promised to fix problems within the sheriff’s office that were identified last year in an audit report, including chronic understaffing and poor morale.
He also criticized Edwards for illegally holding Athens residents for deportation at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying it tore families apart. Furthermore, he reasoned in a Classic City Op-Ed that the community is less safe if undocumented residents feel they can’t call the police without risking deportation.
Hare congratulated Williams for his win.
“Unseating a 20-year incumbent is no easy task,” the Republican sheriff candidate said. “Great job and I look forward to debating the issues and presenting solutions with you over the next few months.”
Hare, a 9-year veteran at the Clarke County Office, had kind words for the departing sheriff.
“I would like to thank Sheriff Ira Edwards, Jr. for the opportunity he has given me with the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, "he said. “Without him, I wouldn’t have had the chance to learn and train with an outstanding group of people not only at the jail, but the agency as a whole.”