Duncan-Walker unseats Simmons in close race

Desmon Duncan-Walker
Desmon Duncan-Walker

Gainesville District I City Commissioner Gigi Simmons was unseated Tuesday in a race decided by fewer than 120 votes.

With all nine precincts reporting, Desmon Duncan-Walker won 52.51 percent of the 2,369 votes cast in the district and Simmons won 47.49 percent.

“It was surreal,” Duncan-Walker says of the moment she found out the final votes were counted and she won the election. “When I finally realized I’d won, I just broke down in tears.”

In a short phone conversation punctuated by sounds of celebration and interrupted by well-wishers and photo calls, Duncan-Walker praised the work of her campaign worker and volunteers. The campaign worked to get people to the polls and volunteers called voters right up until the end of the voting Tuesday evening.

“The work we had to put in in a short amount of time was really, really arduous and hard, but all of that makes a difference right now,” she said. “These people really, really believed in me and that’s the first honor. I can’t thank them enough.”

Duncan-Walker, 44, grew up in East Gainesville and works currently in her family’s business, Duncan Brothers Funeral Home. She told Mainstreet Daily News in an interview before the election that she thinks economic development should be a priority in District I and that she wants to be approachable as a commissioner and involve the community in her decision-making.

“The work that needs to be done in District I cannot be done without its constituents,” she said. “So my goal is build a platform by which the constituents can communicate with me. I want them to understand that I am a commissioner that can be reached. I will not only be accessible by way of their phone calls to me, I plan on being out in the community.”

Duncan-Walker said she got “a very gracious” phone call from Simmons after the election results were posted.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to commune with her—just as two homegirls,” Duncan-Walker said. “This was never, ever, ever, ever personal. This was just about different ways of helping District I evolve in the way that is best for its citizens. We had a good conversation and I greatly appreciate her.”

Simmons also thanked her supporters during a Zoom watch party, telling them how much she appreciated their work on her behalf.

“We put up a hard fight,” Simmons told supporters. “We worked extremely hard and ran an awesome campaign.”

Simmons said she was “extremely proud” of the work she was able to do on the commission and called it a “wonderful opportunity.”

“I did everything I could humanly, possibly do, and I did it the right way,” Simmons said. “I have done what I thought was best.”

In the other race on the ballot, Commissioner Gail Johnson handily won reelection, beating Gabriel Hillel in the race for one of the commission’s at-large seats. Johnson took 88.30 percent of the 9,549 cast in the citywide race.

Hillel, who ran as Gabe Kaimowitz for another at-large seat in 2020 and garnered 5.02 percent of the vote in that four-person race, won a 11.70 percent share of the vote against Johnson.

About 10.64 percent of the 90,794 votes in Gainesville, cast ballots in the two-race election. The turnout was less than the 2019 regular city election, which featured a mayoral race and saw 12.96 percent of voters go to the polls.

The 2020 city races were on the ballot with the presidential preference primary and had a turnout closer to 28 percent.

“I am hopeful as we move forward, the residents of District I will get the attention and the things they deserve,” Simmons said.

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