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Race includes diverse group of candidates

CONYERS - The Georgia House District 93 race offers a diverse array of candidates from which voters may pick, beginning with the start of the advance voting period Monday and leading up to the May 13 election.

There's Malik Douglas, the Georgia National Guardsman who is on duty in Iraq. From there, the slate of candidates includes former beauty queen KaTesha Sagers; former college basketball star Traci Waites, whose campaign manager is a senior at Stephenson High School; and former Libertarian congressional candidate Jim Sendelbach.

Throw in another candidate who said he will not accept any campaign contributions - Colet Odenigbo - and a minister who is pro-choice - Dee Dawkins-Haigler - and you have one of the more interesting races this year.

The kicker: Regardless of who wins this month, the same candidates will run against each other again in the Democratic Primary Election on July 15, because the same candidates have all qualified for that election, too.

A forum held at a motel near the Mall at Stonecrest on Thursday night offered the candidates a chance to introduce themselves to voters. Transportation, health care and ethics were the topics the candidates indicated as among the biggest issues facing the district.

Odenigbo, a former officer with the DeKalb County Juvenile Court, said he believed MARTA service should be expanded outside Fulton and DeKalb counties and across metro Atlanta, and that state and local officials will have to step up and show support of mass transit.

"There's no reason why MARTA should not go to Gwinnett County, and there's no reason why MARTA should not go to Clayton County," he said.

Dawkins-Haigler expressed the frustrations of many in the room of the failure to pass a transportation bill in this year's General Assembly session. She supported extending commuter rail to the Stonecrest area and Conyers.

"The bill failed by three votes, which tells me lobbyists against mass transit killed it," Dawkins-Haigler said. "We complain about the influence of lobbyists in government. Well, maybe we can be the biggest lobbyist at the state Capitol, because transportation is something that affects all of us."

In light of former state Rep. Ron Sailor's poor voting record and criminal conviction that led him to resign from his seat, forum attendees sought a promise from the candidates to stay in touch with residents.

Almost all said they would inform residents through newsletters, Web sites or town hall meetings across the district. Sendelbach said whoever is elected will have a tough job following Sailor, who was referred to as an "absentee representative" at the forum.

"Newsletters and Web sites are good, but they are passive means to reach out," Sendelbach said. "To be a good representative, you have got to go out and talk to people - shake their hands and listen to what they have to say."

Waites agreed, saying she wanted to be "reachable and teachable" in her contact with district residents.

John Evans, president and CEO of Operation LEAD, described his organization as a civic watchdog group and promised to research the candidates, grade them on their ethics and report their findings to the public.

On health care, all of the candidates agreed that funding needs to be expanded for PeachCare, the medical benefit program for children. Others offered their support for universal health care, but admitted it was a complex issue.

Dawkins-Haigler offered her plan to expand health care to everyone to have one regular visit and one emergency room visit. She said funding is already available in how hospitals can write off charity cases and how they receive some state support for indigent care.

Odenigbo and Sendelbach said providing tax breaks to employers who provide health care benefits for their employees is a start, but more work is needed.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.