Vernon Jones And The Politics of Drinking Clorox

Jeff Mann and Debra DeberryVernon Jones’ political career is over.

He may run for other offices in DeKalb County. He will lose. It is inconceivable for him to wrangle an appointed role in executive authority in government after last night’s three-to-one loss to Sheriff Jeff Mann. He may have political advice to give others, but I doubt it will be heard, much less heeded.

Political folks here expected a loss, but the margin stunned most people I’ve spoken with. The exception: Lee May, DeKalb’s interim CEO. May had the spread pegged days ago.

May was eager last night at Mann’s victory party in Northlake to show me a series of insane text messages Jones sent him in the days before the race, cajoling him to offer support. “It got biblical,” said May, a minister-turned-politician.

Others told darker tales last night of Jones’ weirdness. Jones messaged Debra Deberry, DeKalb County’s clerk of superior court, with an appeal that bordered on a threat, she said. She contemplated a temporary protective order after reading it, she added, half-jokingly.

This is what a meltdown looks like. I’ve seen it personally, in Jones’ messages to me.  

State Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick — who will be running this county sooner or later — had a thread going on Facebook last Thursday about the Mann-Jones race. I mentioned a few choice items from Jones’ resume. And then Jones himself appeared in the thread.

After some lame back-and-forth in which he claimed to have never lost the discrimination lawsuit that he plainly lost, Jones erupted.

“Still waiting for you to stop drinking clorox and accept my invitation to meet,” he wrote. As a matter of fact, let’s you, me and your candidate meet in the DA’s office and address the issues you have. If not, your credibility is a sponge!” And then, further down the thread, this. “Remember, that Clorox you are drinking only bleaches you in the inside. At the end of the day, you are not one of them. You will always be Stephen (Samuel Jackson) in Jango!”

“Drinking Clorox” is a line from a Public Enemy song, implying that my criticism comes from racial self-loathing.

I have no idea what the sponge thing is supposed to mean.

On the Thursday night before an election, Vernon Jones somehow found the time to dog people on Facebook. With one stroke, Jones claimed vindication in a lawsuit accusing him of racial discrimination. In the next, he hurled racial abuse. I wasn’t going to write about it, simply because I couldn’t believe it. A sane candidate might worry a bit about something like that getting out. But in retrospect, it appears consistent with other current behavior. I marvel.

Jones’ campaign published a caricature of Mann as a puppet, with a white hand holding puppet strings connected to white leaders in DeKalb County. The attack plays overtly to racial anxieties. It’s a shade of notoriously segregationist Jesse Helms’ “White Hands” ad from his 1990 victory over Harvey Gantt. Jones is from North Carolina and is nothing if not a student of old-school politics. The similarity of the approach, though racially reversed, bears consideration.

With that ad, Jones has become the face of black political racism in Georgia.

Jeff Mann, a political newcomer elevated into the DeKalb sheriff’s seat after Thomas Brown resigned to run for Congress, beat the veteran campaigner 76.4 percent to 23.6. People do not come back from a three-to-one loss, not when they are a known quantity.

Jones appears to have won only eight precincts of the 193 in DeKalb County, each by a handful of votes. He won his home precinct by all of four votes. In contrast, Mann racked up dozen of precincts with 10-to-1 margins. Even in Jones’ old stomping grounds of southeast DeKalb near Lithonia, Mann outpolled him in most precincts by at least three-to-two. It appears that Jones’ legacy in south DeKalb — the sidewalks and road projects his supporters told me of as I knocked on doors south of Memorial Drive this weekend — was outweighed by his baggage and, perhaps, his erratic racially-provocative campaign against another African-American.

Though he spent the campaign describing himself as “unbought and unbossed,” invoking Shirley Chisolm, it might be truer to say that Jones has thoroughly burned every bridge to the county’s political establishment, black and white, with this race. Jones raised more than $180,000 campaigning for a result that appears indistinguishable from a punter with a $100 warchest. That’s $14.40 a vote for a 3-to-1 loss. Never mind how future donors might have to defend contributions to a racially-divisive candidate; I don’t know how they’ll justify the lousy return on investment.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Jeff Mann is now arguably the most popular political figure in DeKalb County. He’s providing desperately-needed stability at a time when the county commission, the school board and other public institutions here are at best looking for their feet and at worst bracing themselves for a fall.

The unanswered question now is what to make of former Sheriff Thomas Brown. Though he lost his run for the 4th Congressional District seat held by Hank Johnson, he remains well regarded in the community. To a degree, Mann’s victory ratified Brown’s leadership of the department. We’re a bit short on leaders right now, and that condition may worsen. Here’s hoping he’s not out of work for very long.


  1. Mrs. Adam Kornstein says:

    I would like to think you are correct, that it’s “over” however, I never underestimate the ability for some to not know when to bow out of politics. Vernon is the Marion Barry of GA, except he doesn’t have Barry’s Civil Rights past or you know, elected office.

      • seenbetrdayz says:

        Maybe that says something about a democrat’s chances if they would come out against the IRS. But that’s another topic. I doubt many people would miss Vernon if he landed himself in the slammer.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            I just had a really disturbing (but comical) vision of Vernon Jones and Nathan Deal as cellmates….With Jones getting first dibs on the top bunk much to Deal’s dismay.

  2. gcp says:

    Jones last minute racial politics was the gasp of a drowning candidate. His screaming and ranting during Sunday’s televised debate was weird as compared to Mann’s calm and controlled demeanor. Would I say he is finished with politics; not likely because he will resurface somewhere.

    As for Thomas Brown; could he be a Dekalb CEO candidate? He says he is not interested but if you look at the interim CEO or the indicted CEO its clear change is needed at CEO and at the commissioner level.

    Mild threadjack here but Mr. Chidi you need to check reference to comments concerning Pine Lake PD. Just a suggestion on my part.

    • George Chidi says:

      Noted. The folks at DeKalb Officers Speak are … grumpy … most of the time, for good reason. They’re recounting long-held accusations about Pine Lake PD, of which I’ve looked into before. My comments stand.

  3. NoTeabagging says:

    The Sign Czar chimes in. $180,000 campaign primarily spent littering roadside right of ways, public property and abandoned, vacant private properties with illegal campaign signs since January. Finally refuting the old campaign adage, “He who litters with the most signs, wins.”

      • Dave Bearse says:

        I especially liked the multiple Vernon Jones signs I saw in Gwinnett County, not a one of them within 3 miles of the DeKalb County line.

  4. objective says:

    “if, not, your credibility is a sponge”: ie, if you don’t meet me, you will be able to wipe away my dirty dirty tactics from dekalb county

  5. MattMD says:

    If Snuggles spent less time in Buckhead restaurants and more time in DeKalb, he might actually win an election or two.

  6. Jane says:

    Lots of Jones signs on roadways in Gwinnett.

    My vote would be for Thomas Brown to wait in line and run for CEO or county commissioner. Dekalb really needs honest moderate politicians that can build bi racial groups. Thomas Brown can do that.

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