Mixed results

City Commission seat flips, runoffs set for general election

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Candidates running for municipal and constitutional offices pushed through challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a primary election that produced at least one major upset and pushed two to a runoff in November.

The biggest shakeup after Tuesday’s primary election was in the race for Seat 1 on the Tallahassee City Commission between two first-time politicians. Jack Porter, who like most other candidates ran her campaign primarily on social media, outlasted incumbent Elaine Bryant to change the makeup of the commission.

Porter received 22,642 votes to 17,586 for Bryant, who was running to keep the seat that she was appointed to in December 2018. She’d replaced Scott Maddox, who was removed from office after being indicted on corruption charges.

 “I’m in shock,” Porter said less than 24 hours after her surprising victory. “It feels incredibly humbling. I’m just really proud of the community that came together.”

Porter alluded to the Maddox case on occasions throughout the campaign, suggested that city government had strayed from serving the citizens. 

Congressman Al Lawson celebrates in victory in Tuesday’s primary with his grandchild.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

“I think people want change in a very real way,” she said. “I earned the people’s trust by telling them I will fight for you. People knew that we wouldn’t always agree on everything but I will have their backs.”

Bryant campaigned on work she had done on the commission, but her campaign took a hit just weeks before the primary when she and Commissioner Curtis Richardson were singled out for accepting donations from developers. It prompted several members of the Black clergy to rally behind them.

“I ran a very upstanding, transparent campaign and that’s what it’s all about,” said Bryant, a devout Christian. “You do what you have to do in a way that pleases God and then do what you do without being hypercritical or doing things that would harm others. That’s what I had the opportunity to do.”

In the end, Bryant said, the people decided.

“I believe in a democracy and the citizens of the city selected Miss Porter,” she said. “I’m going to support our city.

“I’m not going anywhere to sit down. There is a lot of work to be done whether I sit in that seat or in my own seat. I don’t have any reason not to move forward.”

The only other candidate college student William Moore didn’t figure into the outcome, receiving just 3,381 votes.

The outcome for City Commission Seat 2 wasn’t exactly surprising considering that incumbent Curtis Richardson drew four challengers. Richardson, who received 20,576 votes or 47.52 percent, will face Bill Schack in a runoff on Nov. 3.

Candidates needed at least 51 percent of the votes to win their races and avoid a runoff. The outcome didn’t surprise him, Richardson said.

“We are going to continue to work hard to be involved in the community and I’m hoping I could get the support of those who ran against me,” Richardson said. “I feel confident that we’ll be able to win in November.”

Richardson outlasted the rest of the field in campaign fund-raising with $57,820. Schack managed to pull in just over $5,000.

He seemingly is ready to stretch what’s remaining of his campaign funds during the next two months. This is his second consecutive run for a city commission seat after making a bid in 2018 and finishing behind current commissioner Jeremy Matlow.

“I’m excited to be in the position that I’m in and earn the votes of more people,” he said. “That’s what it’s really going to be about; can I earn their trust. I think the things I’ve done in this community have proven that I’m a man of action.

“I’m really humbled that people voted me into this position. I’m going to really work hard for it.”

In the County Commission at-large race, attorney Carolyn Cummings received 22,179 votes for 30.62 percent. That left her and second-place vote getter Kelly Otte (14,911 votes) in a runoff.

The at-large seat drew a large field after incumbent Mary Ann Lindley announced that she would not seek reelection. Initially there were 12 candidates before the field dwindled to seven.

Cummings was the last candidate to enter the race in March. Now she said she is looking forward to the runoff.

“Today is a great day. We’ve pretty much turned the corner,” she said. “We are up to the task.”

Getting this far wasn’t without challenges, she said.

“The pandemic has put a lot of strain on everybody,” Cummings said. “We had to have a second game plan, which was social media. We just tried to put something positive on social media every day so that we could reach the voters; could understand that we have an interest in our citizens.”

In spite of the pandemic, Kelly Otte had a creative campaign approach with a parade of horses on Padrick Road and through the Autumn Wood neighborhood.

As a first-time politician, Otte said she found the experience of going through a campaign “very humbling.”

She added: “It was a little overwhelming and energizing. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the challenge of the Zoom forums.”

She said she is looking forward to the weeks leading up to the general election.

“All we are doing is ramping it up even further,” said Otte, a self-described advocate for social change. “There are new people offering to help. It’s a matter of just keeping us organized.”

Tuesday’s outcome also left Sheriff Walt McNeil with another four-year term. He had to beat an old foe in Tommy Mills, who was one of the people McNeil defeated four years ago.

McNeil wrapped up the two-man race early in the evening Tuesday with 54,583 votes. Mills total was 18,978 or 25.80 percent of the votes.

McNeil took to social media to thank his supporters for another four years to continue the agency’s fight against crime.

“As we approach these next four years, we will have the same energy. The same drive,” McNeil said during a Zoom call.  “The all-in effort is going to be alive and well in Leon County. 

“We cannot allow the drug dealers and gangbangers that come into our community and continue at the rate that they have been. I’m absolutely dedicated.”

  The race for Second Judicial Circuit public defender ended with an overwhelming victory for Jessica Yeary over incumbent Andy Thomas. She almost doubled Thomas’ vote total with 46,064. 

She attributed her win to her message “of being the voice against the injustice that we see in our criminal justice system resonated.

“It was great to have everyone receive that message so well because they are looking for change.”

Congressman Al Lawson secured a third term in Washington by defeating newcomer Albert Chester and LaShonda “L.J.” Holloway. Lawson credited his District 5 supporters in rural North Florida counties for the victory by 18,960 votes. That amounted to 70.82 percent despite having two challengers.

He will next face Republican Gary Alder, who defeated Roger Wagoner in Tuesday’s primary.

However, despite his huge victory, Lawson hedged on predicting a landslide against his Republican challenger.

“You can’t do something because you’re a Democrat or Republican,” Lawson said, surrounded by his supporters Tuesday night. “You want to do what’s best for the people. I think I have a lot of support from Republicans.”

Leon County Supervisor of Election Mark Early reported a 35.79 percent voter turnout for the primaries. It’s just below the 2010 participation of 35.82 percent.