I stalked Victor Hill election night. “Stalked” is a loaded word with creepy connotations. I wasn’t particularly creepy. But Victor Hill needed stalkin’.
Election night would determine, once and for all, the extent to which Clayton County voters were willing to return to their sheriff’s office a man facing nearly three dozen criminal charges. This made Hill a rather non-traditional candidate. As such, Hill aggressively declined to play ball with the news media. On election night, when he ran alone on the ballot, he chose to not have a public victory party.
Even after he unexpectedly won this year’s Democratic primary against incumbent Kem Kimbrough, Hill declined to respond to phone messages, texts and third-party queries from news media requesting even the blandest of comment regarding his upbeat political fortunes.
Election night would be another such night. Hill was likely to beat write-in candidate Garland Watkins, giving Hill a great opportunity to crow a bit if the people of Clayton County voted to return him to office. Turned out Hill got four times the votes of Watkins.
But Hill stayed underground.
During the day, I called and texted Hill’s cell phone to try to learn his victory party’s time and location. He didn’t respond. He never responds. At least he’s consistent.
I didn’t leave a voice mail. His mailbox was full and not accepting messages.
When we visited some of his volunteers, holding signs on Tara Boulevard, they all claimed they didn’t know the whereabouts of Hill’s election night party. The ringleader’s denials were very sketchy. Moments later, they piled into a red SUV and left. For fun, we jumped in our live truck and followed them toward Lake Spivey.
Mike Zakel was the reluctant driver on this caper. I can’t remember ever tailing a vehicle before. It felt ridiculous from the get-go. But it was early, we had time and few other options at that moment. After the SUV crossed the Henry County line, we peeled off. The passengers in the red SUV waved at us as we circled away. I waved back.
I put out calls to police sources in Clayton County. I put out calls to some of Hill’s political opponents. I called one of his attorneys. All said they didn’t know where Hill was planning to declare victory. One sheriff’s deputy snorted: You think I give a shit about his victory party? That guy fired me the first time around.
Hill was sheriff four years ago, before Kimbrough beat him. Hill’s firing of a battalion of sheriff deputies during his first day of office, complete with rooftop snipers as they were escorted out, is part of his legend.
Finally, a contact gave me the name of a street near Lake Spivey, telling me that’s where Hill celebrated his primary victory against Kimbrough. Zakel and I drove up the street. Outside one private home, there were a half-dozen cars parked. We spotted the red SUV in the driveway.
I’d also gotten a description of a car Hill had been driving around Clayton County Tuesday (grey Dodge Charger, distinctive markings on the driver side door). It appeared Hill wasn’t at the Lake Spivey house yet. So we left, figuring we’d return before the night was out.
A little while later, another contact told Zakel that Hill might be found at a restaurant in College Park election night. Meantime, Watkins cheerfully gave us the location of his election night party. We went there and stayed for a couple of hours.
We then headed to the College Park restaurant. By this time, the TV station was clamoring for a live shot. Although Hill wasn’t at the restaurant, we set the shot, wired the camera and waited.
By the time we were cleared at 1:30am, I’d done one thirty-second live shot. We never returned to the Lake Spivey house, where Hill undoubtedly would have invited us us in for refreshments, and savored his victory while dissecting his legal case with a friendly, exclusive on-camera chat.
My fantasy world is a place where PIOs are helpful and responsive, human beings answer phone calls and web hit data isn’t substituted for news judgment.
Hey Victor: Call me!
A version of this piece appeared election night on 11alive.com