Cynthia Chestnut officially rejoined the Gainesville City Commission 35 years after her first appointment at Thursday morning’s swearing in ceremony on the steps of City Hall.
Chestnut and four other candidates vied for the at-large seat during a special election in November. Chestnut and Matt Howland received the majority of the November votes, prompting a runoff for January.
Chestnut won the January runoff by a little less than 250 votes with 12,268 votes cast—a larger voter turnout than the original November election.
“We understood from day one that citizens wanted a seat at the table to share their concerns and their ideas,” Chestnut said during the ceremony. “I promise to always listen to you. I promise to hear the concerns of the people of Gainesville and advocate for them inside the walls of our City Hall.”
She said every citizen has the right to a stable government and promised to restore people’s trust in local government.
The ceremony was special, Chestnut said, being held during Black History Month.
She first sat on the commission in 1987 as the city’s first black, female commissioner and then served as the city’s first black, female mayor in 1989. Chestnut left city government to join the Florida House from 1990 to 2000 before serving on the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners.
After the swearing-in ceremony, the commission convened for its regular bi-monthly meeting with items from solar power to affordable housing and redistricting.
Chestnut campaigned with several key issues in mind that she highlighted in her official statement after winning and in her speech on Thursday.
“When launching our campaign, I promised to resolve issues that the people have expressed time and time again: lower utility costs, preserve neighborhoods, address crime through job creation, and protect the environment,” Chestnut said in the statement.
The special election process began after former Commissioner Gail Johnson announced her resignation. Johnson also endorsed Chestnut to replace her. In her speech, Chestnut acknowledged the endorsement and said she was grateful for it as she now carries Johnson’s torch.
The strain and cost of the special election caused city staff to propose an alternative option for filling seats left empty midterm. However, the proposal failed to gain traction with both Chestnut and Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker expressed their opposition.
Since winning the seat, Chestnut has participated in city meetings through public comment and let the commission know where she stands on issues during her allotted three minutes.
Some of those comments have included criticism of steps taken by the commission.
“Gainesville’s name is just being dragged through the mud,” Chestnut said in January when the commission voted to fire a charter officer. “We are becoming known as the city that is an interim. We are an interim city because all we have is interim employees.”
She also spoke during comment on the commission’s recent changes to downtown parking.
You can watch the full swearing-in ceremony at the City of Gainesville’s Facebook page.