A keen interest in public policy motivated Elena Parent to attend law school, and that same passion pushed her to run in last year’s election for the Georgia House District 81 seat then occupied by Republican Jill Chambers.
Parent, a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, defeated Chambers in November and was sworn in last week. Parent defeated Chambers 3,342 votes to 3,056.
After graduating law school, Parent moved to Atlanta and spent six years with the law firm Southerland, Asbill and Brennan. But it was her time as chief of staff for former Democratic state Senator David Adelman (now the United States ambassador to Singapore) that cemented her interest in political office.
“I spoke with [Adelman] about my interest in policy work and he suggested I work with him in his campaign,” Parent said. “He was my political mentor. He encouraged me to run, and working with him gave me a chance to see firsthand what I’d be doing.”
Her run for the District 81 seat was Parent’s first foray into politics.
The victory over Chambers was a significant one for the Democratic Party. Parent was the only Democrat on the state level in Georgia to unseat a Republican and one of fewer than 10 to accomplish the feat nationwide, according to Eric Gray, communications director for the Democratic Party of Georgia.
“She’s extremely qualified, young, energetic and very smart,” Gray said. I think that’s just the kind of person the party needs.”
District 81 covers the northern half of DeKalb County and includes Chamblee, Doraville, Brookhaven and parts of Dunwoody, said Parent a resident of Brookhaven. Parent, her husband Briley Brisandine and their 10-month-old son Brooks live in the Ashford Park community.
Education and infrastructure are two issues that Parent said she feels strongly about.
“There is a lot of local legislation that interests me,” Parent said. “We’ll be looking at shifting the size of the DeKalb County School Board. I think there are benefits to shrinking it. Gwinnett County has five [board members] and they seem to be doing well.”
Gwinnett is the largest school district in the state while DeKalb County, with nine board members, is the third-largest system in the state.
Parent said she also is interested in seeing the redevelopment of the property that formerly was the site of the General Motors plant in Doraville. Parent sees the site as having great potential beyond a typical mixed-use development.
“I don’t know if it will sustain itself for a long time with housing and commercial businesses,” she said. “It’s a great location for biotech and bioscience companies. It’s close to the CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Emory and the University of Georgia. It’s a fantastic location. The state has put a lot of effort into pushing biotech and bioscience in the economic platform.”
Infrastructure in DeKalb County as well as the state is another issue that Parent sees as critical over the next few years. DeKalb County is feeling the pinch of an antiquated water and sewer system as the county recently agreed to pay a $453,000 penalty from the federal Environmental Protection Agency after having nearly 850 sewage spills since 2006. The county also consented to implement a $600,000 stream cleanup project.
Additionally, the county’s Board of Commissioners approved $1.345 billion in improvements to DeKalb’s water and sewer system, which will be financed by an 11-percent rate hike each year for three years beginning in 2012.
“Infrastructure has been neglected and I don’t think the state has put enough emphasis on it,” Parent said. “It’s been the main impediment for attracting new business.”
Fixing the present problems is the only way to start improving the infrastructure, Parent said.
“I have a little bit of reticence to tackle aging infrastructure issues if we don’t make improvements,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to rebound and it doesn’t set the stage for attracting business and improving the quality of life. It’s an issue all over the state. We have to do it in a smart way and provide the funding in a smart way.”