Chestnut, Howland head to Gainesville runoff

Cynthia Moore Chestnut earned more votes than her four opponents in the race for the open at-large Gainesville City Commission seat, but didn’t collect enough Tuesday to avoid a run-off.

Chestnut, a former city and county commissioner and state representative, got 5,400 votes, which was 46.06 percent of the 11,725 votes cast. Because she didn’t get above 50 percent of the vote, she will face second-place vote-getter Matt Howland in a Jan. 25, 2022, run-off election.

Howland, a former public school teacher and non-profit founder who is running for his first political office, received 4,840 or 41.28 percent of votes cast.

Of the three remaining candidates, former City Commissioner Scherwin Henry earned 1,236 votes (10.54 percent), retiree Patrick Ingle garnered 127 votes (1.08 percent) and former attorney and perennial candidate Gabriel Hillel Kaimowitz got 122 votes (1.04 percent).

Turnout for the special election was 13.07 percent of 89,785 eligible voters, according to the unofficial election results.

The special election was triggered when Commissioner Gail Johnson resigned her seat several months after winning a second term.

In addition to scoring more votes than their opponents, Chestnut and Howland out fundraised them as well. As of the latest financial reports submitted on Oct. 31, Chestnut raised $41,041 while Howland raised $36,412. Henry raised $8,807 while Ingle raised $1,060. Kaimowitz did not report raising any money during this election cycle.

In 1987, Chestnut became the first Black woman elected to the city commission and was appointed mayor in 1989. She served in the Florida House, representing the 23rd District from 1990 to 2000, and won two terms on the Alachua County Board of Commissioners, serving from 2002 to 2010. Most recently she has served as the chair of the Democratic Party in Alachua County and ran unsuccessfully for chair of the Florida Democratic Party earlier this year, finishing third.

Howland was a public school teacher at Westwood Elementary School when he left to start Youth Combine, a nonprofit youth fitness organization, according to the biography on his campaign website. In 2017, he moved to Washington, D.C., to begin working with military and service organizations. Howland moved back to Gainesville during the COVID-19 pandemic as his job transitioned to remote work.

The special election was expected to cost the city approximately $200,000. New voting security measures, an increase in the minimum page and bilingual ballots have meant an increase in price for Gainesville elections, according to city and county officials.

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