Duan Jones did not vote last month to choose a city commissioner who will represent East Gainesville.
“We need people,” Jones, 48, said, “who are going to do some stuff and not just look out for their side of the town.”
On May 1, it will be voters like Jones who live in District 1 who will choose to either stay the course with incumbent Charles Goston or pick a new direction with challenger Gigi Simmons. Both campaigns have been working to reach voters since the March 20 City of Gainesville election.
Early voting begins Saturday at three locations: Cone Park Library, Millhopper Branch Library, and the Supervisor of Elections Office.
Midday on a Saturday following the March 20 City of Gainesville election, a group of seven of Simmons’ volunteers set off into the neighborhood around Precinct 55. They were headed out to reach voters in District 1 — again.
Tyra Edwards claimed six percent of the votes in March, forcing a runoff between Goston (45 percent) and Simmons (49 percent). A candidate needs to claim 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff, which often feature lower turnout than the initial election and bring the city an additional cost. (A citywide election cost about $150,000 in 2015, though a single-district one as on May 1 will be less.)
Runoff elections in Gainesville are not uncommon; there have been a total of 13 since 2000. This will be the third runoff specifically for District 1, according to Alachua County Supervisor of Election records.
Simmons maintains a positive outlook toward the runoff.
“It’s an opportunity for me to go back out into the community and talk to the folks I didn’t talk to the first time,” Simmons said. “I’m invigorated.”
Goston did not respond to WUFT’s request to follow his campaign efforts between the March 20 and May 1 elections, but campaign manager Scott Austin said, “We are doing the same thing she is doing. That includes sign waving and canvassing.”
About District 1
District 1 falls within a majority-minority population area, so city officials carved large segments of East Gainesville where fewer minorities live — the Duckpond neighborhood, for example — from District 1 and added them to others to avoid a violation of the Voting Rights Act. This has been the case since city voters began electing representatives by districts in the 1980s:
For a variety of reasons, some constituents feel East Gainesville has long been forgotten, according to Tawanka Williams, 43, a registered District 1 voter and lifelong Gainesville resident.
Williams is a single mother working two jobs and feels the community and a lack of resources have let her down.
“The cost of living in this area continues to go up, but wages don’t,” Williams said. “This has been my experience, but with all the jobs I’ve worked in the past, the companies hire in the newcomers and the young people who start at higher salaries.”
College students who call Gainesville home for a few years are looking to get involved in local politics as well.
University of Florida student Cheyanne Durham, 19, was one of the 58 new District 1 voters who registered between March 20 and April 2, the deadline to be able to vote on May 1. She sees the divide within the city.
“Universities provide an almost tourist draw, which provides an economic boom,” Durham said. “Areas near the university experience the upside in economic growth, but the surrounding areas see a really slow process and remain in their state before the university became what it is today, it’s hard for the people just living and working though.”
Though runoff elections typically have a lower turnout rate — roughly 10 percent, for example, in 2015 when Goston beat incumbent Yvonne Hinson-Rawls — candidates, volunteers, and residents are hopeful of the changes that can be made to the side of town that could easily be written off.