ATLANTA – The McKinney era in Georgia politics ended Tuesday when state Rep. Billy McKinney lost his seat in a Democratic runoff, three weeks after his daughter lost her place in Congress.
John Noel, a political unknown who was a toddler when McKinney first took office 30 years ago, easily defeated McKinney, 2,852 to 1,565. Noel, 31, had never run for office before and elicited little media interest until he forced McKinney to his first runoff.
The longtime legislator deflected criticism he was too closely tied to his daughter, a fiery congresswoman who lost after scolding prominent Republicans after Sept. 11. The elder McKinney wore a baseball cap from his daughter's campaign while waiting for returns Tuesday.
Earlier, McKinney said the two were "targeted" by Republicans and victims of a conservative smear campaign.
McKinney also accused Noel, who is white and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, of being racist.
"I did not expect this because I expected black folks to turn out for me," McKinney said. "They did not turn out for me. They wanted a Klansman, a son of the Confederacy."
Like his daughter, the elder McKinney is known for making controversial statements. He was heard on television before the primary describing why he believed she faced such a tough battle: "J-E-W-S."
In 1998 McKinney called his daughter's opponent a "racist Jew." He later apologized for the remark, but came to be seen as out of touch by many in his liberal district.
"His comments turned off the majority of people," Noel said.
The McKinneys also felt cut loose from their own party. Billy McKinney told reporters Tuesday that both planned to become independents because of their lack of support from the Democrats.
"I'm no longer a Democrat, no longer fighting Republicans. I'm an independent," he said.
Noel was careful throughout the campaign not to strongly criticize McKinney, one of Atlanta's first black police officers and a major advocate for increased black representation in the 1970s.
"In many ways he is a civil rights hero in his day, but his day has passed. Eventually you have to run on a record, not a legacy," Noel said.