Gail Johnson walked into First Magnitude Brewing Company with her arms raised to silence the crowd of about 60 supporters who were still watching voter results pour in.
“My opponent just conceded,” yelled Johnson, who was elected for the City Commission At-Large Seat 1, Tuesday night. Johnson is the first black woman to be elected citywide in at least 21 years, said TJ Pyche, the director of outreach for the Supervisor of Elections office.
Johnson beat her opponent, incumbent City Commissioner Harvey Budd, by a nearly 30-point lead. The race was so close between District 1 candidates incumbent City Commissioner Charles Goston and challenger Gigi Simmons that a runoff will be held May 1. In the end, Simmons lead by 85 votes.
From the moment the early votes were counted, Budd said he knew he had lost.
“When I walked into the big room and saw the screen, I knew,” the 70-year-old said. “I’m an accountant.”
His wife of 35 years, Ilene Silverman-Budd, said she had a harder time accepting it. She didn’t see the results as fast as her husband did. She’s not a numbers person, she said.
“I’m disappointed for my husband, and I’m disappointed for the city of Gainesville,” she said. “The experience he got from his first term until now that experience the city won’t benefit from.”
About 64 percent of voters chose Johnson over the nearly 36 percent that voted for Budd. At about 7:30 p.m., Budd stepped outside of Heartwood Soundstage, where his watch party was hosted, and called his opponent on his cellphone to concede.
“She outworked us, and she deserves it,” he said.
Johnson said he congratulated her on her success.
“He said he is going to make my transition as easy as possible and that I’m going to make a great addition to the commission,” Johnson said.
Sandra Lambert, a 65-year-old writer, sobbed when she heard the results at Johnson’s campaign party.
“It’s great to hear some good news,” she said.
Kristen Young, Simmons’ campaign manager, said her campaign will continue to focus on face-to-face interaction with District 1 residents. Young expects volunteers from other campaigns to get involved with Simmons’ campaign now that a runoff looms ahead.
“We have the full spotlight now, so we’ll be able to get our issues in front of people and be more visible,” Young said.
The crowd erupted in applause as friends and supporters hugged Johnson when she announced Budd’s concession. Her supporters chanted “Gail for Gainesville” and toasted glasses of First Magnitude beer.
Simmons clutched her mother’s hand and peered up at the screen in Cypress and Grove Brewing Company as the votes rolled in. Each time the page refreshed and she inched ahead of Goston, the room, filled with about 50 of her supporters, would swell with cheers.
“I was the underdog, so to get to this point, I feel blessed,” Simmons said.
Election workers counted 11,165 votes, cast by about 13 percent of registered voters, after polls closed at 7 p.m. Over half the votes were from mail-in and early voting. Voter turnout was two percent higher than in 2015, when the same seats were up for election.
Despite leading Goston the entire night, Simmons didn’t earn the 50 percent of votes plus one she needed to avoid a runoff. As the numbers ticked upward, the reality of the runoff began to dawn on her campaign. Simmons had about 48 percent of the vote compared to Goston’s 45 percent. Tyra “Ty Loudd” Edwards got 6 percent.
When Simmons stepped forward to thank her team and announce the runoff, her campaign party erupted in applause.
“I’m charged, and I’m energized. I’m not stopping. We’re going to win this thing,” Simmons told her supporters.
The last time District 1 went to a runoff election was in 2015. Goston, who won the last runoff, said he will do what it takes to win this one.
“This isn’t a victory, this is a motivator for me,” Goston said as his volunteers huddled in close to him at his campaign party at the Warehouse Restaurant and Lounge.
After the runoff was announced, he took shots at the Gainesville Sun, which he said published false information about him. He also berated the paper for endorsing Gigi Simmons, who he feels has nowhere near enough experience in government to take his seat.
“If they want to play it this way, let’s play it this way, OK?” he said. “I like getting down and dirty, it don’t bother me.”
Tyra “Ty Loudd” Edwards and 15 close supporters and friends watched her opponents’ battle it out in the polls from her campaign party at Xclusive Night Club.
“I will be involved in getting Little Africa Resource Center open and make sure District 1 gets what we deserve,” Edwards said. “It’s not over. The hard work has just begun.”
When it started to become evident District 1 might go to a runoff, Debbie Martinez, an event coordinator for Goston’s campaign, jumped out of her chair with both fists raised in the air.
An uproar of cheers from Goston’s volunteers filled the dimly lit, wood-tiled Warehouse Lounge. One volunteer, shocked by the applause, asked “What happened?”
Martinez, 67, shouted her response.
“We get to work our a-- for three weeks.”
Staff writers Jessica Giles, David Hoffman, Christina Morales and Amanda Rosa contributed to this report. Contributing writers Jessica Curbelo and Rachel Porter also contributed to this report.