Gainesville City Commission at-large seat election, Nov. 16

by Joe Courter

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, the special election to fill Gail Johnson’s at-large City Commission seat will take place.

Early voting will be on Friday, Nov. 12, through Sunday, Nov. 14, from 9am to 6pm at the elections office (515 N. Main St.) and at the Millhopper Branch Library (3145 NW 43rd St.). On Election Day, vote at your precinct. 

All registered voters in the city of Gainesville are eligible to vote. 

There are numerous forums available to watch or read online if you are so connected. League of Women Voters, Women for Wise Growth, Alachua County Labor Coalition, Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, and the Gainesville Sun are five.

This election is a race marked by a big contrast between the two strongest candidates in their views and levels of experience in Gainesville. Cynthia Chestnut is steeped in Gainesville politics as a multi-time elected official and very active in Gainesville Democratic Party politics. She is endorsed by Gail Johnson as her replacement to carry on with a development moratorium and an emphasis on equity issues and neighborhood defense. As one friend put it, she has both roots and memory. 

Matt Howland is a young newcomer to politics, but he hit the ground running with signs and a vigorous door-knocking campaign. He has been a teacher locally, but also worked in the nonprofit sector while in DC in recent years. He gives very good answers and seems a positive energy, good guy.

I have people I know and trust supporting one or the other candidate for various valid reasons.   

This is a city in transition. The rather shocking boom in infill construction in the downtown and University area has eliminated many iconic pieces of Gainesville. A few years ago it was Burrito Brothers replaced by the towering “Standard” at 13th and University. Before that, Nathan Collier took over the funky “Student Ghetto” and built apartment buildings just north of campus. 

And now? Entire blocks taken over near campus and downtown. 

It is called infill, on the alleged premise that it prevents sprawl. By introducing high density, it affects the surrounding area. 

Lately it has been invading neighborhoods such as Porters Quarters. Yes, it makes sense to cut back commuter traffic, and the former housing can house a different demographic, but lately neighborhoods are feeling run over. Who benefits, and who is being ignored?

With Cynthia you get a known person with a long track record. This is good and not so good. With Matt you get a new person with no track record in elected office, or for that matter that much life experience. This can be good and not so good, too, but you find out later. 

I can’t get past the feeling that a seasoned Black woman who knows this community should be the replacement for Gail Johnson, for the needed perspective she would bring. But whichever person gets the seat, it is not an easy time to move into it. Vote Chestnut.

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