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Heckstall hangs it up
by Nneka Okona
May 08, 2013 04:12 PM | 2089 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Saturday, former District 62 State Rep. Joe Heckstall, D-East Point, will mark nearly two decades as a south Fulton public servant.

His retirement celebration, which includes dinner and dancing, will be at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in College Park.

Upon reflecting on his long career serving the community that has become his second home, the New York transplant recalled when he first moved to East Point and had a strong desire to advocate for community betterment.

“I grew up in New York City and was always active in the community,” he said. “I got a taste of wanting to help people and got to college and did the same thing in the 1960s.”

Heckstall moved to East Point in 1972 and found himself living in deplorable living conditions.

He decided to lead a rent strike.

“The sewage was acting up. There was lead paint on the walls. Many of the apartments had gutters and often times the maintenance people were sluggish in correcting the problems — and you were still expected to pay your rent on time or get evicted,” he said. “Most of the situations were addressed and it was a great learning experience.”

From there, Heckstall continued his service and was appointed to the Community Relations Board.

“There was still a lot of racial tension in East Point,” he said. “I was appointed to the board with the attempt to try to create more harmony between the white and black community.”

In 1981, Heckstall was elected to East Point’s city council, where he served for 13 years before running for the Legislature in 1995.

Heckstall counts as victories in his career the legislation creating Camp Creek Marketplace — the first shopping center erected on the south side for more than 50 years — making changes to the city of East Point’s charter and establishing a hotel/motel tax in College Park and East Point.

He said paving a path for other minorities like himself was vital, as well.

LaDawn Jones, who succeeded Heckstall, said she is humbled to be following him.

“Just in general, it is an honor to try to fill the shoes of one of the first black elected officials in East Point,” she said. “He was truly a trailblazer and a supporter of mine.”

Jones said she has taken the example he set and molded it to be the best leader she can for the community.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fill his boisterous shoes,” she said. “I am definitely going to try. My goal is to make sure that everyone is informed with what will happen in legislation.”

As for the future, Heckstall said he wants to continue living his life but extending himself to others in a different way.

“I enjoy making people laugh,” he said. “Now I want to do things that are going to help our kids. Our next generation has to be helped to learn about their image, self-confidence and the power within.”

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