Former state Rep. Keisha Waites is pledging to be a “bridge-builder” with crucial state political connections if she wins the Fulton County chairman office Nov. 7.

Waites, an Atlanta Democrat, made an earlier, unsuccessful run for chairman in 2006, losing to John Eaves. Now she joins Robb Pitts and Gabriel Sterling as candidates to replace Eaves, who left to run for Atlanta mayor.

Keisha Waites. (Special)

“I’ve had the unique opportunity to gain experience in the Georgia House of Representatives,” Waites said of what has changed since her previous chairman run. “I have alliances and relationships I did not have before.”

She cited property taxes and transit as among the top issues facing the county.

Waites has run unsuccessfully for several offices over the past 15 years, including various General Assembly and Atlanta City Council seats. In 2010, she ran for the Fulton Commission’s District 4 seat, losing to the late Joan Garner.

In 2012, Waites won a special election for the state House District 60 seat, representing an area around East Point, Hapeville and southeast Atlanta.

Waites cited her sponsorship of several House bills: the “Fallen Hero Bill,” providing college tuition assistance to children of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty; restoration of driver’s education funding for high schools; “April’s Law” addressing domestic violence; efforts to address distracted driving; and funding to ensure accessibility in state buildings for people who use wheelchairs or are visually impaired.

“A lot of issues facing Fulton County, I’ve already dealt with at the state level,” Waites said.

“I want to be frank with you. Every one of us who qualified…will probably do an outstanding job,” Waites said when asked about the race’s other candidates. But, she added, “I walk into the door with immediate relationships with the speaker of the House” and other key officials. “These are people I dial on my cellphone,” she said.

Waites resigned from her House seat on Sept. 18 to run for chairman. She said she views the chairman seat coming open as “a signal and a sign it was time to move on and do greater public service.”

Like her competitors for the seat, Waites said she would aim to unify a county that has often been divided along racial, economic and political lines.

“I’m not interested in having a Democrat or a Republican conversation,” said Waites, pledging a unified message on “black and white issues, gay and straight issues” and issues affecting seniors and youths. “There will not be two separate campaigns” in north and south Fulton, she said.

She also said she worked with Eaves “when there was a movement afoot to carve Fulton up” with the proposed reversion of north Fulton to a separate “Milton County.”

Waites said it is important that the county have good relations with the cities of Atlanta and Sandy Springs.

“The health of Atlanta affects the state of our county and our region,” she said. “I actually have working relationships with every single [Atlanta] mayor candidate.”

“Sandy Springs went through growing pains when they became a city, but they became successful,” she said, adding that good relations must be maintained there, too.

On the county’s increasing property taxes, Waites said she is both a homeowner and a landlord and understands the situation. She called for broadening the residential and commercial tax bases with more development and added that “we have a moral obligation to make sure seniors can stay in their homes.”

On transportation issues, “We must expand MARTA … all the way to north Fulton, as well as to south Fulton” and along I-20, she said. “There’s cost involved, but we just need grit and will to do it.”

On some other issues, Waites called for “common-sense solutions” to the “ridiculous homeless population” in downtown Atlanta and improving healthcare at the county level through such institutions as Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital.

Reporter Newspapers forum

Reporter Newspapers and the Riverside Homeowners Association will host a candidate forum for the Fulton chairman race on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 7 p.m., at Kairos Church, 5855 Riverside Drive N.W. in Sandy Springs. All three candidates have confirmed their attendance.

Update: This story has been updated with a new location for the candidate forum.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.