Attending the BCN candidate  forum for House Dist. 54 were,  from left, Democrat Bob Gibeling, Independent Bill Bozarth, and Republicans Beth Beskins, Loretta Lepore and John McCloskey.
Attending the BCN candidate forum for House Dist. 54 were, from left, Democrat Bob Gibeling, Independent Bill Bozarth, and Republicans Beth Beskin, Loretta Lepore and John McCloskey.

The Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods turned its May 8 meeting into a forum for candidates running for the Georgia House District 54 seat.

Republican candidates Beth Beskin, Loretta Lepore and John McCloskey were on hand along with Democratic challenger Bob Gibeling and independent candidate Bill Bozarth. A fourth Republican candidate, S. Angelic Moore, did not attend.

The Republican challenger to Gibeling and Bozarth in November will be decided during the May 20 primary.

The candidates made opening remarks and then fielded questions posed by BCN chairman Tom Tidwell and from audience members. Education, removing or reducing state income tax, and economic development were the main topics of discussion during the two-hour forum.

Beth Beskin: A practicing attorney and geologist, Beskin said she has no “personal or business goals” in her reason for running other to serve the people of the 54th. She supports the creation of more charter schools and favors getting rid of the state income tax in favor of the “fair tax,” which would raise taxes on retail sales. She said one of Buckhead’s biggest challenges is traffic and accompanying watershed issues. Beskin sits on the board of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy, which is addressing watershed issues with the creation of a master plan for the greenspace.

Loretta Lepore: The former journalist and marketing director for the Georgia Department of Economic Development now owns “strategic communications” firm Lepore Associates. Lepore is focused on growing jobs and the economy through innovation and entrepreneurship, which she said would only happen with more education (including early learning opportunities) and tax reform. She supports lowering the tax rate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She said there is a “skills gap” in the state, which is stunting economic growth and keeping unemployment figures high and more attention should be paid to education.

John McCloskey: Executive vice president and general counsel for Select Management, McCloskey said he is not a politician, has never held political office and would serve a limited number of terms. He’s a strong advocate for eliminating Georgia’s state income tax to stimulate more business growth, is against the Common Core education standards and opposes the Affordable Care Act. McCloskey said the biggest issue facing Buckhead was unemployment and the tax burden created by Fulton County and city of Atlanta.

Bob Gibeling: A former Republican, Gibeling said he left the party when “extremist politics” took hold. He now describes himself as centrist and independent-minded Democrat. Education, transportation and economic development are two of his main focuses in the campaign. He worked in advertising and marketing before going to work in the charity sector as a fundraiser for Lutheran Services of Georgia. Gibeling supports Common Core and believes that the proposed voucher system is a threat to public education. He’s in favor of keeping the state income tax, but rewriting the tax code so it gives more incentives to small businesses.

Bill Bozarth: The former head of non-partisan, non-profit citizens’ lobby organization Common Cause Georgia, Bozarth said he is running as an independent so he won’t be beholden to lobbyists, political action committees or influence from “big money” donors. Bozarth said he would not vote along party lines, but rather support bills that make the most sense for Georgia. Before joining Common Cause, Bozarth worked at the executive level for IBM. He also supports Common Core educational standards and supports more charter schools. Bozarth said he doesn’t support proposals to eliminate the state income tax, questioning how an increase in retail taxes would affect low and middle class families.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.