Two facing McKinney in primary

(Gold9472: Write Dave, and tell him how much you support Cynthia McKinney.)

By Dave Williams

ATLANTA — Four years ago, a little-known local judge toppled U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney from office by arguing that the 10-year veteran was more interested in stirring up controversy than serving her constituents.

But two years ago, after Denise Majette left the House in an ill-fated run for the U.S. Senate, McKinney regained the DeKalb County-based 4th Congressional District seat in impressive fashion.

McKinney, D-Decatur, brushed past five opponents in the Democratic primary without even being forced into a runoff, then went on to trounce Republican Catherine Davis in the heavily Democratic district.

Now, two Democratic challengers have emerged to oppose McKinney’s re-election bid in the July 18 primary: businessman John Coyne III and Hank Johnson Jr., a lawyer and DeKalb County commissioner.

The winner will face Davis, who is taking another shot at the seat unopposed on the Republican side.

Both of McKinney’s Democratic opponents — but particularly Johnson — are taking aim at the string of controversies that have surrounded the incumbent, both during her first tenure in Congress and more recently.

In the latest episode, a grand jury just over a week ago declined to indict McKinney for assault against a Capitol police officer. She struck the officer in March when he didn’t recognize her and tried to stop her from going around a security checkpoint.

While McKinney initially claimed that the officer improperly touched her and asserted that she was a victim of racial profiling, she later apologized on the House floor.

“I am relieved that this unfortunate incident is behind me,” McKinney wrote in a statement issued after the grand jury cleared her. “I shall continue my important work on behalf of the citizens of Georgia’s 4th Congressional District without this cloud hanging over me.”

Wrong priorities
But Johnson questions whether the work McKinney focuses on is truly meeting the needs of her constituents at home. He complains that she spends too much time fanning the flames of national conspiracies and not enough dealing with, for example, regional transportation problems.

“I feel the local government could use a real partner in Washington,” Johnson said. “We’re not getting one.”

While McKinney touts on her campaign Web site her role in sponsoring the first ever “open briefing” on the 2001 terrorist attacks, she drew fire from across the political spectrum a few years back when she suggested that President Bush may have known about the plans for 9/11 beforehand.

Coyne said her Republican constituents’ reactions to her controversial style contributed to McKinney’s defeat in 2002. Many GOP voters in the district “crossed over” that year to vote for Majette in the Democratic primary.

“They’d had 10 years of Cynthia McKinney,” Coyne said. “They got heavily frustrated with her.”

Lone voice
But McKinney, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has said repeatedly that it’s important to have someone in Washington who is willing to “speak the truth” about Sept. 11 and the Bush administration’s deceptions leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

As for constituent service, McKinney noted on her Web site that she is the only member of Congress to hold a “District Day” every month, when she meets with constituents without an appointment.

Johnson said he would be a much more effective advocate for the 4th District than McKinney.

He said she has brought in only $25 million in federal transportation aid specifically earmarked for the district in 12 years in office.

“That’s a pittance,” Johnson said. “We’ve gotta do a better job of bringing home our fair share.”

Coyne, who is a brother-in-law of the Fulton County judge who was killed in last year’s courthouse shootings, said Johnson has put too much emphasis in his campaign on local issues.

“I look at it more as a whole than as a district,” he said. “There’s too many (national) problems that have got to be resolved.”

Johnson said his priority issues include not only transpiration but affordable health care, creating jobs and education.

“We’ve got some of the highest dropout rates in this country,” he said.

“These kids are feeding into the criminal justice system.”

Funds lacking
But Coyne said the federal government won’t have the money to address any of those issues until Congress gets a handle on the soaring national debt.

“We have a runaway train,” he said. “It’s not going to stop until somebody says, ‘If we don’t have the money, we’re not going to spend.’”

Coyne lives in Alpharetta but says he would consider moving to DeKalb if he is elected. Members of Congress are not required to live in their districts.

Thanks to the latest round of congressional redistricting, the three candidates are running in a vastly different 4th District.

It includes a larger portion of western Gwinnett County and for the first time takes in most of Rockdale County.

But Adam Stone, a political science professor at Georgia Perimeter College, said McKinney should still have the advantage.

He said the district still contains most of the incumbent’s south DeKalb base, while many of the white voters from north DeKalb who tended to oppose McKinney have been moved outside the 4th.

Stone said Johnson appears to have the better shot at knocking off McKinney. However, Stone said the grand jury’s decision not to indict her was a major blow to his chances.

“Her opponents don’t really have a hammer to use against her,” Stone said. “If she’d been indicted, he would have had a better shot.”