Endorsements heat up race for City Commission Seat 1

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

With less than a month before the primary election day, the race for Seat 1 on the Tallahassee City Commission is heading into the final stretch with the two frontrunners garnering some key endorsements.

While questions remain about the status of Jermaine Miller and college freshman William Moore not having a strong wind at his back, incumbent Elaine Bryant and challenger Jack Porter are running an intense race for the seat that Bryant has had for a little more than 18 months

Until recent weeks, it seemed that the COVID-19 pandemic could take all normalcies out of the race. Then, the endorsements started coming in for both candidates who have taken their campaign up a notch from social media to adding street signs.

However, the endorsements they’ve received could weigh heaviest in determining the voters’ choice, said Hans Hassell, a FSU instructor who holds a PhD in political science. He is author of “The Party’s Primary: Control of Congressional Nominations.”

Elaine Bryant (left) was sworn in as city commission in December 2918 by city attorney Cassandra Jackson.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

The kinds of endorsements that Bryant and Porter have been getting seemingly have tightened up the race in recent weeks. 

Bryant has the backing of recognizable names like former city manager Anita Favor and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, along with Rev. Joseph Wright, pastor at Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church.

“Commissioner Bryant is highly qualified to represent all of Tallahassee. She is a person of great integrity and intellect,” Crump said. “She will be a fierce advocate for social justice, economic equality and helping disadvantaged neighborhoods. We can trust Commissioner Bryant.”

Current city Commissioner Jeremy Matlow and Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor are among those who have thrown their support behind Porter, along with former city commissioner Nancy Miller.

Both also have been endorsed by community leaders – Southside advocate Christic Henry for Bryant and Delaitre Hollinger, former president of the local NAACP, for Porter.

Hollinger said he was impresses by Porter several years ago when he met her while conducting a tour of Frenchtown.

“As a fifth-generation Tallahasseean and strong advocate for our neighborhoods, smart growth, historic preservation, and equality for all,” Hollinger said, “I wholeheartedly endorse (Porter) for City Commission.” 

The cross section of backers doesn’t surprises Hassell, since as much is expected when endorsements become a part of a campaign.

“It is a signal within the political network that this person is somebody that you can trust,” Hassel said, explaining how influential individuals or organizations’ backing could be. “It adds legitimacy to the candidacy of that particular individual within that particular network.”

While the race for the municipal commission seat is non-partisan, Hassell believes that party affiliation makes a difference. His studies include work on how parties determine the field of candidates and control the outcomes of political primaries and nominations for the US House and Senate. 

Political candidates’ reliance on endorsements goes back to the 1940s, Hassell said. Obviously, they’re more commonplace today.

“Sometimes they are more formal and made a bigger deal than other times, but a lot of times these endorsements are grandiose public demonstrations or they are done behind the scene,” Hassell said. “They’ve been a part of this (political) process for a long time.”

An informal breakdown of the endorsements indicates that both Bryant and Porter are making a solid run for the African American vote. That much is obvious from the backing of Favors and Proctor, whose district includes the heavily Black populated Southside of Tallahassee.

“Jack has superb credentials and educational background to represent all citizens exceedingly well,” Proctor wrote in his endorsement. “I trust her spirit, brilliance, independent thinking, and grit. Jack cares and will fight for what is right. These traits compel my respect.”

Proctor’s familiarity with Porter goes back to when she served as a Commissioner on the Tallahassee/Leon County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls from 2016 to 2019.

“I’m grateful for every vote, every volunteer and every endorsement,” Porter said. “Absolutely.”

Apart from endorsements, Porter’s is running on her background as a legal assistant. Her accolades also include being involved in urban and regional planning as well public administration and policy work. 

But even with their resumes, both candidates have to find ways to get their messages out while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Porter said. “We are just trying to do as much as we can, finding creative solutions to campaign during COVID.”

Favors said it wasn’t difficult for her to endorse Bryant. They have a friendship that goes back almost three decades.

Bryant through her engagement with civic organizations and professional work has shown “intelligence and reason” that made it easy for her to win the endorsement, Favors said.

“I hope it resonates with the community because the community has a strong record with me,” said Favors, who served as City Manager for more than a decade. “Most of the people who know me well will hopefully agree that I’m also a person to whom integrity is important.”

Porter is attempting to unseat Bryant, who in December of 2018 was appointed to the seat held by former commissioner Scott Maddox. He was removed from office after being charged with public corruption.

Bryant was chosen from a field of nine finalists on a unanimous vote by the Commission. Her presence gives the city commission a majority minority for the first time.

“I believe she was thrown into the fire, but I think she is handling it with grace and confidence,” said Henry, who is known for her strong advocacy for the Southside. “She is learning as she is advocating. It’s only going to grow stronger and stronger. She has a very strong strategic planning background.”

Bryant, whose background also includes being owner of EW Bryant Associate consulting firm, expressed gratitude for the backing she received.

“I’m extremely appreciative of the cross section of Tallahassee citizens who recognize and acknowledge the work I’ve been doing in the community; not just in the last few years,” she said, “but in my tenure in Tallahassee. I’m extremely thankful.”

Depending on the outcome of charges of lewd and lascivious behavior involving a child under 16 against Miller, the Aug. 18 primary could decide who wins the seat if Miller drops out as a write-in qualifier. In that case, the candidate with 50 percent of the votes plus one wins.

If Miller manages to remain in the race, the Nov. 3 general election will determine the winner. Bryant wasn’t too concerned about what day voter will get their say.

“I’m extremely hopeful that I will win in August, but if not and I need to go to November that’s exactly what I will do,” she said. “I believe in this community and I’m going to continue until I don’t have the support to do that.”

The endorsements Bryant and Porter would have picked up before Election Day could go a long way in determining the outcome, Hassell said, especially in a community the size of Tallahassee. Plus, he said, people generally use information that is readily available – such as what’s said in an endorsement — to make decisions about candidates.

“They look for easily available information that’s going to give them information about what’s in their best interest,” Hassell said. “So I think endorsements, whether formal or informal, really help people pick up clues about what they should do in politics. We rely on them all the time.”