MACON, Ga. — Anita Reynolds Howard and incumbent David Cooke will square off next month in the Macon district attorney race.

The circuit covers Bibb, Peach, and Crawford counties.

Both candidates said their experience qualifies them for the job.

Howard has been a prosecutor for 15 years, most recently in the Towaliga circuit.

"I have prosecuted in superior, probate, accountability, juvenile courts," she said.

Cooke has been the Macon Circuit district attorney since 2012. He says his experience leading major felony cases and guiding assistant district attorneys as they tackle big cases make him the man for the job.

"I've tried several dozen murder cases, I've tried over 150 jury trials as lead," he said.

Cooke highlighted his prosecution of gang offenses, saying it's increased "1,000%."

He also spoke about his juvenile justice program designed to keep kids out of gangs by rehabilitating those who commit low-level offenses.

"We've already intervened with over 500 kids who, were it not for this program I instituted, they would have been arrested and prosecuted," said Cooke. "Instead, we got them the services they need so they can become strong kids."

Over the past two years, Cooke's office started programs like that -- first in Bibb in 2018 and then later in Peach County.

If elected, Howard said she'd support similar programs and others including "alternative sentencing for young non-violent adult offenders" designed to rehabilitate.

She attacked Cooke for not already installing a juvenile justice program in Crawford County and said the programs should have been rolled out simultaneously instead of one at a time.

"We will also ensure that anytime we start a program in one county we will start the program throughout the circuit," said Howard.

Cooke said it takes about a year to set up each program and he began the process of setting up the program in Bibb in 2017.

"As soon as we finished (in Bibb), and Bibb is 80 percent of the circuit, we began with Peach and we were already at work on Crawford," he said.

Howard alleged, in some instances, Cooke hasn't done enough to support law enforcement.

"There are so many stories that people can tell from law enforcement families," said Howard. "Fallen officers, their families who have not gotten the justice or the respect that they should."

It's an issue she's raised in a campaign ad about slain Peach County deputies Daryl Smallwood and Sergeant Patrick Sondron.

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The ad features Sondron's wife arguing Cooke's office mishandled the case.

Prosecutors accepted a plea deal that avoided trial and gave the shooter two life sentences without parole, plus 100 years.

Cooke has consistently stood by that decision and says most family members of the two deputies supported the plea deal.

"I listen to the person who gave birth to the victim more than anyone else when I'm making a decision like this," said Cooke. "Both mothers asked me to take that plea."

Howard also argued Cooke overstepped his authority as DA in his prosecution of coin operated gambling machines, saying he "went beyond the scope of the law."

Cooke disagreed, saying the district attorneys association that represents all of the DA's in Georgia says his tactics have been proper.

"These machines are a cancer on our society," Cooke said. "Wherever you find poverty, you will find these machines in every store, and they go after people who are down to their last hope and their last dollar and they make hundreds of millions of dollars just in Macon doing just that."

Cooke said another of his top priorities would be to give some offenders the change to expunge their past criminal records.

"We've had multiple expungement events where people who have already sought to change their lives need to have qualifying offenses taken off their record so that they can go back to work or get a better job and be a more productive member of society," Cooke said. "When we do that, the data says employment goes up and crime goes down."

Howard said, if elected, she'd install a "district attorney accountability council" consisting of members from all three counties in the circuit to review "policies at the district attorney's office."

Election day is June 9th.

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