Democrats sweep County Commission races
Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 10:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 10:57 p.m.
Voters didn't want the Alachua County Commission to change direction after all.
All three Democratic candidates won their district races for the commission, dashing Republican hopes of electing a GOP majority to the board.
Commissioner Mike Byerly, the sole incumbent candidate, defeated Republican opponent and former Hawthorne mayor John Martin in the District 1 race with an unofficial final tally of 55.62 percent of the vote to Martin's 44.38 percent. Byerly won 62,169 votes to Martin's 49,614.
Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson, who served on the commission from 1998-2002, took the District 3 seat. He got 64,579 votes, or 58 percent, and defeated Republican and former Alachua mayor Jean Calderwood, who collected 46,480 votes or 41.76 percent, in unofficial results. Write-in candidate Bryan C. "Buck" Buchanan received 239 votes or 0.21 percent of the tally.
State Rep. Charles S. "Chuck" Chestnut IV will round out the Democratic majority on the County Commission as its District 5 representative. He received 60,087 or 53.74 percent of the vote to Republican and first-time candidate Dean Cheshire's 47,929 votes or 42.87 percent — the closest margin among the commission races between two major-party candidates. No-party-affiliated candidate K. Siva Prasad received 3,790 votes, or 3.39 percent.
Hutchinson, sporting a Barack Obama "Forward" shirt Tuesday night as he celebrated with fellow Democrats at an election party in downtown Gainesville, said it was a good night for Democrats and for Alachua County as a whole.
But the Democratic sweep of the commission races doesn't negate the substantial swath of Republican residents who voted for their opponents, Hutchinson said.
"The Republican message obviously resonated with 40 percent of the folks," he said. "It's important for us to listen, and I know we will."
Calderwood echoed her opponent's sentiment, saying she hoped citizens would remain engaged in county government. "I would certainly hope the commission would listen to all the citizens, not just those who voted to put them in office," she said.
The Democratic and Republican candidates clashed for months over whether the commission should maintain the course it has held for decades or shift in a more conservative direction.
Byerly said he felt good about the election because the candidates gave voters a clear choice.
He, along with Chestnut and Hutchinson, will give residents strong, progressive leadership, he said. With the campaign over, he said he hopes the "silly rhetoric and extreme commentary" could be set aside in favor of constructive debate.
Commissioner Susan Baird, the commission's lone Republican, said she would continue to voice her opinions and hope the board's Democratic majority makes wise decisions.
She expects the commission's direction to be multiplied by the Democratic sweep on Election Day.
Martin attributed his loss to Byerly to a party-line vote that led to an across-the-board Democratic victory in the commission campaign rather than to the advantage of incumbency.
Byerly and Hutchinson listed transportation as a top priority moving forward. They want to develop an initiative to replace the "Fix Our Roads" referendum, which voters defeated Tuesday, that focuses on a more holistic approach not solely limited to road repair.
Hutchinson emphasized the need to solve the county's "economic development puzzle" by not only supporting the local innovation economy but also generating jobs for people outside that sector.
Chestnut said he will focus on spurring job creation and developing a balanced budget that takes all residents' needs into consideration. Having worked in the Republican-majority state Legislature, Chestnut said he is looking forward to a change of pace by joining a Democrat-dominant commission.
Florence Turcotte, 53, of Gainesville, said she hoped the commission would be more productive and less contentious with the election of this Democratic trio.
"I think the County Commission is going to be very productive and very forward-looking," she said.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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