State Rep. Joe Wilkinson has dropped his re-election bid and endorsed former challenger Deborah Silcox in the May 24 Republican primary.
In his unexpected March 23 retirement announcement after 16 years in office, Wilkinson also blasted the race’s other candidate, Graham McDonald, as part of a “plot” by Sandy Springs leaders to replace him.
A special election to fill the District 3 City Council seat left vacant by McDonald will be held the same day as the primary. Three candidates have announced runs so far, including Chris Burnett, market president at the Bank of Sandy Springs; airline pilot Joe Houseman; and Brian Eufinger, who runs the Sandy Springs Zoning Coalition group on Facebook. The candidate qualifying period is April 13-15.
Wilkinson said in an interview that his decision was based on his doctor’s advice and two new opportunities: his appointment by Gov. Nathan Deal to the Technical College System of Georgia board, and consulting work on a movie called “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero,” about a real-life World War I military dog.
“My oncologist said, ‘You’ve got to slow down. You’ve got to pick and choose,’” said Wilkinson, who successfully battled prostate cancer in recent years.
“I think it’s the right decision for me personally, for my family, for my business, and I think also for the district,” Wilkinson said.
“Knowing that we had the perfect candidate in Deborah Silcox, and one who is ready to go and so well-qualified…If we didn’t have Deborah in the race, I would have felt obligated to stay.”
Silcox, a Sandy Springs lawyer, said she entered the House District 52 race only because McDonald did first and opened up the campaign field. McDonald, also a lawyer, resigned from the City Council to run for the House seat and was endorsed by Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul.
“I did not have a heads-up” on Wilkinson’s decision, Silcox said in an interview. “I have to say that Sandy Springs and Buckhead owe a huge debt to Joe Wilkinson for his service,” she added, noting his Buckhead roots and his lead sponsorship of a bill that allowed the city of Sandy Springs to incorporate. “I’m so, of course, honored and flattered that he would endorse me.”
“I have a high opinion of Rep. Wilkinson as both a person and a representative of our district,” McDonald said in an interview. “I can also appreciate how difficult retiring from such a long-held position must be.”
Wilkinson previously claimed that he had been grooming McDonald as a potential successor in two years and was “blindsided” by his campaign. McDonald and Paul have denied any surprises. But in his written announcement, Wilkinson stepped up his criticism.
His statement blasts “those who would view our political offices not as belonging to the people who elect us, but as private perks to be doled out to the privileged few.” In an interview, Wilkinson said he was referring to Paul and Sandy Springs state Rep. Wendell Willard.
“They saw this as an opportunity to circumvent the electoral process by urging me to qualify to run again and then withdraw at the last minute and allow their candidate of choice to step into office unopposed,” Wilkinson’s statement says. “I flatly rejected this proposal. Yet they went ahead with their plot and, at the last minute, qualified their chosen candidate McDonald. Their intention was to then pressure me to step aside with false claims that I have not been focusing on the needs of Sandy Springs.”
McDonald denied the claim. “I certainly never engaged in a plan of that type,” he said.
Willard said he was not surprised Wilkinson was stepping down. “I wish him well,” Willard said.
Willard joked about talk of “the grand conspiracy” and declined to comment at length, simply saying, “That’s just B.S.”
Paul said in an email that there was no grand plot and that he is “sad on a personal level” about the campaign dispute.
“I have had several conversations with him over the past two years about the importance of being in and involved with Sandy Springs, if he planned to continue represent this area,” Paul said.
“I have supported him in every election for 16 years and there was no grand plot, as he alleges. He knew well in advance that I planned to support Councilman McDonald if he chose to run. So, there was no blindsiding as he also alleged.
“It was as a friend I tried to be frank and candid about my concerns in hopes he out go out to the appreciation and universal thanks from the community that he deserves,” Paul said.
Political figures pay tribute to Wilkinson
State Rep. Joe Wilkinson’s March 18 announcement that he will retire at the end of his term drew tributes from local political figures. Wilkinson has held the District 52 state House seat, representing parts of Buckhead, Sandy Springs and northwest Atlanta, for 16 years. He was the lead sponsor of a bill allowing the vote that created the city of Sandy Springs. Here are some of the statements paying tribute to him:
“Few individuals have given more commitment to our party and state than Joe Wilkinson. Joe is a dear friend who has always led with principle and vision. Throughout his life–whether in public service or the private sector–Joe has chosen to give so much back to his city, state, and nation. I had the privilege and honor to serve with him in the Georgia state Legislature, and the wit, wisdom, experience and passion he brought to his responsibilities were on constant display. Betty and I wish Pat and Joe the very best in the years to come. We look forward to our paths crossing again.”
—U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell)
“Having served 22 years in elected offices myself, I can attest to the sacrifices public servants make, which are far beyond any monetary benefits. For such commitments we salute Joe with our appreciation and best wishes for his future.”
—Sam Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition and former Atlanta mayor
“What is left out of the political obituaries about Joe Wilkinson are several points I’d like you to know:
1. He served our nation for longer than he served in the Legislature, retiring as a captain in the United States Navy and a veteran of Desert Storm.
2. He was literally one of the first Republicans in the state, working on campaigns for Bo Callaway and Barry Goldwater.
3. He served in the White House press office under Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.”
—Todd Rehm, political consultant and editor of GaPundit.com