The room was filled with pink shirts as Gigi Simmons’ supporters watched the votes pour in.
The live vote count was projected as supporters looked on, cheering as the tally on the screen indicated Simmons’ win in the runoff election for Gainesville City Commission against incumbent Charles Goston. When she found out, Simmons hugged her longtime friend and supporter Dotty Faibisy.
“Things are going to happen in District 1,” Simmons said, addressing the crowd. “It’s our time.”
Simmons stood in front of about 40 supporters, including Commissioner-elect Gail Johnson, at the Cypress and Grove Brewing Company. She commended those who helped her throughout the campaign, especially those who walked miles to encourage voters to get out to the polls.
“I just want to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart,” Simmons said. “I would not be standing here without you all.”
Tuesday’s runoff followed six weeks of campaigning, after an initial election in March did not provide Simmons with the 50 percent of votes plus one needed to win. Simmons had won about 48 percent of the vote, while Goston had about 45 percent of the vote cast for him.
Simmons received 60 percent of the 2084 ballots cast.
“It’s wonderful to have someone that’s a woman on there, and someone that’s of color on there,” supporter Sherry Steiner said. “I’d like to see her to continue the progress that city commission has been making.”
Voter turnout was higher for this runoff than in 2015, Supervisor of Elections Outreach Director TJ Pyche said. But the turnout was lower than that of the March 20, 2018, election.
Results aren't made official until they are certified by the canvassing board, which will happen Thursday afternoon, Pyche said. Any variation will likely be small and due to provisional ballots.
“It's been a long six months, and I’ve had the opportunity to talk to alot of people about a lot of different things,” Simmons said. “So what I would like to do is get in, get settled and start working for the people of District 1.”
Guests at the Goston watch party, however, downplayed the mood from the beginning.
Supporters of Gainesville’s incumbent District 1 City Commissioner trickled into the back room of The Warehouse Restaurant and Lounge around 7 p.m. and helped themselves to sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres. Illuminated by a single disco ball the size of a baseball and Christmas lights wrapped around the the rafters, the room echoed no cheers, no muffled screams of excitement that an election day can sometimes bring. Just polite chatter among old friends and colleagues.
Around 7:40, the music that had been thumping throughout the night stopped. The 25 supporters and campaign staff members continued their idle conversation, waiting for Goston to show up. As the results came in from each of the nine precincts, it became evident that he could not catch Simmons.
As he strode into the room to relay the news of his defeat to his supporters, Goston struck a defiant tone. He announced his upcoming position as president of a new Alachua County chapter of the National Action Network, a non-profit civil rights organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. The organization's website does not yet list a chapter in north central Florida as of Tuesday night.
Nevertheless, he said he'd use his future job to continue his efforts in helping out Gainesville residents.
“I'm going to work with the Black Caucus,” Goston said, “We're going to be the most powerful political organization in this county.”
Much of Goston’s concession speech focused on what he said were the inequalities black residents of Gainesville suffer from, such as being passed over for city and county jobs and being disproportionately. He promised to fight racial discrimination he said is still plaguing the city.
Goston also thanked those who had gathered at The Warehouse, saying they supported his message through the end of his campaign.
“When people know how hard you worked for something, and when you work selflessly, why shouldn’t they be here?” Goston said. “The greatest heroes are those who don’t wait to get a pat on the back.”
Derriante Mitchell, a 24-year-old Gainesville resident, was in attendance. Mitchell said he holds no ill will toward Simmons, and that he would show his support for the new District 1 Commissioner-elect.
“I don’t want this city to get over on her so nothing gets done on this side of town,” Mitchell said. “It’s not a time to be divided. I’m pretty sure Commissioner Goston’s going to show his support to her as well.”
Staff writer Gillian Sweeney and editor-in-chief Morgan McMullen contributed to this report.
District 1 Commissioner-elect Gigi Simmons (right) celebrates with friends and supporters after winning the runoff election between her and incumbent Charles Goston.