Running with a purpose

Four candidates challenge incumbent Richardson for city commission seat

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Each of the challengers for the city commission Seat  2 that incumbent Curtis Richardson holds is campaigning with vastly different issues at the top of their agendas.

Overall, though, the four challengers believe that it’s time for a change. However, each of them still face the challenge of making a four-day qualifying period that begins June 8 in order to get on the ballot for an Aug. 18 primary to determine if there will be a runoff in November.

Curtis Richardson

With the deadline to qualify by petitions expired, the candidates’ only hope of making it on the ballot is to pay a $395.88 fee before the end of the qualifying period. Each of the candidates says their campaigns have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but they are moving head by word-of-mouth and social media. 

Trish Brown

Three of the hopefuls are first-time candidates for a political office. Bill Schack, who ran against commissioner Jeremy Matlow in 2018 is the only one who has made a bid before. The other candidates are Geraldine Seay, Lynette Halter and Trish Brown.

Richardson said he finds the number of challengers surprising to him, as much as it  is to observers of the race for the municipal seat. Nevertheless, it’s a familiar place for Richardson, whose first run for an elected office was in 1988 when he made a bid for the Leon County School Board.

He’s also campaigned in 2000 for the state legislature, and  in 1996 for a Leon County Commission seat against Bill Proctor.

“I always seem to attract opposition. I see democracy,” said Richardson, who was appointed to the commission in 2014 to finish out the last two years of Andrew Gillum’s term when he ran for mayor. “I see it as a good thing because I had to start somewhere.”

Each of the challengers’ priorities varies. For example, Schack said one of the issues that he finds bothersome include poverty, calling himself “the right guy” to handle a multitude of issues in the city.

Geraldine Seay

“After 2018, I felt like I learned a lot about running for office,” he said. “I learned a lot about the process and there wasn’t even a doubt that I was going to run again. It really was a decision of what seat to run for. I think there is an appetite for someone who has been on the commission a long time to be removed.”

Seay, owner of B Sharps jazz café in Frenchtown, was unequivocally clear that her focus is improving living conditions around where she and her husband own the business. She said she’s been hearing about plans for improving Frenchtown since 2004 but hasn’t seen any come to fruition.

“When I looked around Frenchtown and I look at its history, and what it lost, it’s demoralizing,” Seay said. “You have children growing up there who think that their forefathers did nothing because they’ve all been torn down.”

Frenchtown and other neighborhoods that face inequities are also the areas of concern for Trish Brown, an activist on several fronts. The issues  prompted her to enter the race, but as recent as earlier this week she wasn’t sure if she could raise the money to get on the ballot.

However, she voiced her opposition to Lawrence Revell being named chief of Tallahassee Police Department and the cost of living in the city among the things that concern her.

Bill Schack

“I feel like the words of our people are falling on deaf ears,” she said. “We need real people that know what it is to struggle or work a nine-to-five job.”

The crime rate is clearly the one topic that pushed Halter into the Race. “I got mad,” she said, explaining her reason for running, although she said she’ll have to pay the qualifying fee after falling  160 short of the 1,601 signatures to get in by petition.

Halter, a retired Navy veteran, described herself as “a little old lady” who is unhappy with the high crime rate.

“That just gives me fuel so I kept running,” she said. “I went door to do and I went to at least 3,000 homes (with petitions). I was walking through every neighborhood that I could think of that did not have violent crime happening.”

What they said

Schack on neighborhood improvement: “I think that’s a problem. We’ve been talking about improving those neighborhoods for 20 years now, if not longer. It’s about time we do it and the only way we do it is with action. How many community meetings do we need before we actually start to improve the communities that we are talking about.”

Seay on current leadership: “They don’t get it. I get it. I know what’s wrong. I know how to fix it and it has to be fixed because you have so many kids coming out of high schools and they can’t read. They read at the second and third grade level. Those kids end up going to prison.”

Halter on her view of city commissioners: “I don’t have anything negative to say about the commissioners, despite my concern over corruption. The ones that are in office now I don’t know if they are honest or not, but I rather think that they are.”

Richardson on the newcomers in the race: “If I hadn’t taken that opportunity to at least get started I wouldn’t be where I am today so I never begrudge anybody the opportunity to run. I just run on my record and it has been a successful record so far. People have reelected me to the various officers that I’ve run for.”

Trish Brown on why she is running:  “The city commission isn’t trying to do its job by working for the people. We put you in the seat because we want representation as far as what we want in our community. Who knows better than us what we need and what we want.”