Chestnut edges Howland to win commission seat

Cynthia Chestnut repeated her narrow November win on Tuesday in the special runoff election, winning a seat on the Gainesville City Commission with 51 percent of the vote.

With 6,256 ballots in her favor, Chestnut overtook political newcomer Matt Howland, who claimed 6,012 votes. In November, both candidates led the pack of five by more than 3,500 votes.

“Well, tonight all of our campaigning over the last five months paid off,” Chestnut said on Facebook. “We won. However, the real good work towards a better Gainesville begins tomorrow.”

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Monday’s election saw a higher voter turnout with 12,268 ballots cast versus 11,735 in November. Still, both elections saw voter turnout of roughly 13 percent.

Chestnut announced her run for the at-large seat on the city commission in September, after then Commissioner Gail Johnson announced her resignation.

The city soon announced the special election for November, and when no candidate earned a majority, a runoff was set for January—with each election costing the city $200,000.

Chestnut served on the Gainesville City Commission starting in 1987 and became mayor in 1989. She traveled to Tallahassee to represent the 23rd District from 1990 to 2000 before serving on the Alachua County Board of Commissioners from 2002 to 2010.

Howland returned to Gainesville during the COVID-19 pandemic when his Washington, D.C., job switched to remote work. Before leaving the city in 2017, Howland worked as a teacher at Westwood Elementary School and started a nonprofit focused on youth fitness.

Howland outraised and outspent Chestnut during the runoff period, though Chestnut won the funding race in November.

Chestnut will join Commissioner Reina Saco as the other at-large position on the commission, alongside four district commissioners and the mayor.

In November Gainesville voters will vote on a new mayor and several commissioners, all of whom are term-limited.

The turnover will continue a string of changes at City Hall dating back to last year, which saw several charter officers leave their posts. The city has a new interim city manager, city attorney, chief operating officer and executive chief of staff.

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