Friday marked the end of the qualifying period for Gainesville’s two opening city commission seats.
District 1 incumbent Gigi Simmons will face Desmon Duncan-Walker in the March 16 election.
For the at-large seat, incumbent Gail Johnson will face Gabe Kaimowitz, a lawyer who was disbarred in 2016 for pleading a case while his attorney’s license was suspended. Kaimowitz is running this year under the name “Gabriel Hillel.”
Registered voters who reside within Gainesville’s city limits will be able to vote in the upcoming election. All voters are eligible to vote in the at-large race, while only those who live in District 1 can vote in that contest. Here are the district boundaries:
Early voting takes place from March 5 to 13 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at these locations.
Below is a brief background of each candidate.
Simmons hails from the historic African-American community of Porters, located between downtown Gainesville and the University of Florida. Elected to the city commission in 2018, Simmons serves on the Library Governing Board, the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council and the Alachua County League of Cities.
Speaking in a recently released campaign video, Simmons tells Gainesville residents, “I want you all to know that your voice and your vote matter. Together, we’re stronger; together, we can make a difference.”
In 2018, Simmons defeated Charles Goston by recieving 59.97% of the District 1 vote. If reelected, Simmons would break a nine-year streak of single-term commissioners in District 1. Scherwin Henry was the last commissioner in that district to earn approval from voters to serve two terms, from 2006 to 2012.
Duncan-Walker’s family has a deep history in Gainesville. Her grandfather, Collins Chestnut Duncan, founded the Duncan Brothers Funeral Home in the Fifth Avenue neighborhood. Duncan-Walker is a former Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street Advisory Board member.
After Peak Campus, a $3.5 billion company specializing in student housing, filed plans in 2020 to develop a large student housing complex that would reshape the historically Black Fifth Avenue neighborhood, Duncan Walker founded the Gainesville Alliance for Equitable Development, an organization fighting against the gentrification of Black communities in Alachua county.
Duncan-Walker previously worked as the city’s coordinator at its A. Quinn Jones Museum and Cultural Center and before that with the Miami-Dade County Department of Parks and Recreation’s African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.
A Gainesville native, Johnson attended Eastside High School and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in English literature. According to her city commissioner profile, Johnson previously founded and published an arts and culture magazine in Brooklyn and also worked for the feminist magazine BUST.
Johnson was elected commissioner at-large in 2018. She’s a board member for Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida, a founding member of the Local Progress Florida Organizing team and a member of the Metropolitan Transportation and Planning Organization.
She is the chair of Gainesville’s Race and Equity Subcommittee, and holds multiple League of City positions.
Kaimowitz has a history of challenging Gainesville city officials and attorneys. He ran for the other at-large commission seat in 2020 and received 5.08% of the total votes.
A 2013 Florida Bar investigation also found that Kaimowitz “has disparaged lawyers based on their age, ‘race,’ ethnicity and gender.” On August 30, 2012, Kaimowitz filed a motion that called a Gainesville city attorney antisemitic slurs.
The only candidate to raise or spend any money as of Friday was Simmons, who reported taking in $4,360 and spending $3,358.75.
(None of the candidates responded last week to WUFT’s requests for an interview about their candidacies.)