Chamblee Alumna Teresa Tomlinson: A Politician Years in the Making


Photo courtesy of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

2020 Senate hopeful Teresa Tomlinson smiles for the camera.

Oliver Hurst, Staff writer

The following article is the second part of a two-part series about Chamblee alumna Teresa Tomlinson. The first part, where Tomlinson’s Chamblee experience is discussed, can be found here.

Ever since her time as a Chamblee Charter High School student, Teresa Tomlinson has found herself drawn to public office, starting with running for student council as a sub-freshman.

Tomlinson credits her decision to run for student council to Lloyd Cuevas, a Chamblee teacher at the time.

“I was inspired by one of my teachers, Lloyd Cuevas, a geometry teacher,” said Tomlinson. “There are teachers that touch your imagination and get you to think more about yourself than ever imagined. He was one of those.”

Later on, Tomlinson run a campaign for Student Body President. While her campaign was unsuccessful, Tomlinson’s loss did not dash her dedication to politics. Following her graduation, Tomlinson went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Sweet Briar College in economics and her Juris Doctor from Emory University. After working as a lawyer, Tomlinson decided it was time to run for public office again, this time for Mayor of Columbus, GA. 

“I saw the opportunity that we can have to better our communities,” said Tomlinson, “Particularly as it relates to reducing poverty and crime and improving racial relations in Columbus. So when the mayor announced that he was not going to run for another term, I began looking for somebody to run because one of the things I have always done was call and try to convince people to run for office. And I got three, four [responses saying] ‘No, I am not interested’, so I decided to cut out the middleman and run myself.”

According to Tomlinson, this election was special because, like most local elections, the Columbus Mayoral Election was non-partisan. This meant that voters were focused on the issues facing the city, not the political party of the candidates.

“It [did not] matter what [political] party you are; people just want their potholes filled and their trash picked up, and there is no party involved in that,” said Tomlinson.

Because voters were especially focused on the issues and how candidates proposed to solve them, the election was especially hard. This was exacerbated by the large number of candidates (four) for the size of the city.

“We ran for 11 months and had 44 debates, which was an extraordinary number of debates to talk about the future of the city,” said Tomlinson. “I ran on race, poverty and the fact that [Columbus] needed to transition our power structure to be one that looked more like the people being represented. Every pundit and analyst said I lost my mind because that is not the kind of thing that voters care about; they only care about crime and schools. Nevertheless, I thought it was a conversation we need to have. And I made it into the runoff.”

After another month of campaigning and even more debates, Tomlinson managed to capture 68% of the votes, becoming Columbus’s first female mayor. Tomlinson later became the first mayor since the city-county consolidation of Columbus to be reelected for a second term. 

Over her two-term tenure as mayor, Columbus oversaw many changes for the better in her community. 

“[Columbus was] able to reduce crime by 42% and reduce homelessness by 40%. When I came into office, the animal euthanasia rate was 80%; 80% of animals that [Columbus] took in, were put down within five days. We completely reformed that system. And within just a couple of years, Columbus became a certified ‘No Kill’ community,”   Tomlinson.

After her second term ended in January 2019, Tomlinson returned to practice law, but quickly declared she was running in the 2020 US Senate race for David Purdue’s seat. That said, before she can actually run against Purdue, Tomlison must first gain the democratic nomination. 

If elected to the Senate, one of Tomlinson’s main priorities will be addressing climate change.

“The first thing I have on my list of issues is addressing the climate crisis because we have run out of time, and we are already paying for it. We might as well be paying to help save the Earth instead of paying to clean up from the disasters that result from our inaction,” said Tomlinson.

Echoing fellow Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, Tomlison is also focused on fighting voter suppression in the country.

“I am very concerned about voter suppression,” said Tomlinson. “It is not just happening in Georgia, it is happening all over. And so we really do need to go ahead and amend the Voting Rights Act to apply to all 50 states because every person’s vote should count. I mean, our constitution stands for the very principle, one person, one vote.”

As for those wanting to run for public office later in life, Tomlinson offered simple advice: be brave.

“I know, you think that popular people run for elected office because you have to win the popular vote, but the fact of the matter is, you have to be a leader first,” said Tomlinson. “People hate cowards. If they smell that you are a coward, they will not vote for you. And so you have to lead first; you cannot lead by the polls. If you wait to see what everybody wants to do, that means you are not handling a tough problem. But lead on [the tough problem] and people will respect and appreciate your leadership.”

To learn more about Tomlinson’s Senate Campaign and her various positions, you can visit her campaign website at