‘Hipster Mayor’ Ted Terry Joins Georgia Democratic Senate Race

Terry was Bernie delegate, got makeover on 'Queer Eye,' directs state's Sierra Club chapter

Clarkston (Ga.) Mayor Ted Terry {Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

The field of Georgia Democratic challengers hoping to take on Sen. David Perdue (R., Ga.) doubled on Wednesday, as the "hipster mayor" of a tiny town east of Atlanta announced Wednesday he would seek the nomination.

Clarkston mayor Ted Terry—"Mayor Ted" for short—is running on his "cutting edge" liberal record and said his goal as mayor has been to "challenge the establishment and disrupt the system," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

He joins former Columbus, Ga., mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who announced her bid for the Democratic nomination in May.

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Terry, who was born in Florida, would be a unique figure in the U.S. Senate if he succeeded in going from mayor of 13,000 residents to senator for more than 10 million Georgians.

The 36-year-old grew a "resistance beard" after Donald Trump won the presidency, served as a Bernie Sanders delegate in 2016, and got a makeover on the Netflix show Queer Eye that aired last year.

Calling himself a "Democrat who gives a damn," Terry said he wanted to be like several of the top 2020 presidential candidates, notably omitting former vice president Joe Biden.

"I have the desire to support policies and plans like Elizabeth Warren," he told the AJC. "I want to change fundamental aspects of the system like Bernie Sanders. I want to bring a youthful vision like Mayor Pete [Buttigieg] and I want to embody the passionate approach of people like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker."

Since first being elected in 2013, he has decriminalized simple marijuana possession, raised the minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour, and committed Clarkston to run on fully renewable energy by 2050. His mayoral duties are part-time; he also serves as director of Georgia's chapter of the Sierra Club.

He ripped Perdue for not holding town halls and for his closeness with Trump.

Yet while Terry is a staunch liberal, he does not support a flat minimum wage increase to $15, saying it should be pegged to inflation, doesn't support the full elimination of student loan debt being championed by leading 2020 presidential candidates, and has some qualms about a Green New Deal.

Terry told the AJC that people should watch his Season 2 Queer Eye episode, cheekily titled "Make Ted Great Again," if people wanted to know who he was. The show, a reboot of the Bravo series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, consists of a "Fab Five" group of gay men who make over a different person each episode.

"I get no respect," Terry said of his motivation for appearing on the show. "The older council members, older people in general, will usually assume, ‘You're young, so you don't know anything.' Even though I've been working in this arena since I was 17 years old."

The Fab Five were concerned by his shabby wardrobe, messy home, and scraggly beard, although they adored his politics and message of inclusivity. He also got coaching on his hesitant speaking style ahead of a climactic dinner party for international dignitaries to discuss refugee resettlement.

Mother Jones reported the new, slightly more formal attire he adopted under Queer Eye‘s guidance didn't take: "The last time I saw him, he was wearing a beige ‘Make America Green Again' tee," its reporter wrote last year. Terry also grew back the beard he shaved off during the episode.

Clarkston, which sits on just 1.4 square miles in metro Atlanta's DeKalb County, calls itself the "Ellis Island" of the south because of its high percentage of refugees. Terry appeared to express concern during the show that at some point, hostile Georgians would come to Clarkston to "cause trouble" for his residents.

"How does that make you feel when you have such an ethnically diverse town, but the rest of your state isn't?" cast member Tan France asked him.

"There's always this concern that people are going to show up in my town to cause trouble," Terry said. "It hasn't happened. The people that are showing up are showing up as almost a response to the anti-immigrant rhetoric … I can't change what's happening outside of my city limits in Clarkston, but I can change what's happening in our 1.4 square miles."

Georgia's Democratic Senate nomination race is wide open, following 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams's decision not to run. Other candidates who could join the field include Jon Ossoff, who lost to Republican Karen Handel in 2017's 6th District race, and Sarah Riggs Amico, who lost last year's race for lieutenant governor.

Perdue is in a strong financial position as he seeks a second term, having raised $1.9 million in the last quarter, leaving him with $5 million in cash on hand. Tomlinson raised just $520,000 in the last quarter.

Terry said last year that if the "worst happens" and Abrams didn't defeat Republican Brian Kemp in the governor's race, then he would run for the office in 2022.