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Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Cynthia Chestnut, Matt Howland continue their work in the electoral process

Chestnut prepares for her new position while Howland returns to a graduate program

City Commissioner-elect Cynthia Chestnut (center) stands with Gainesville NAACP President Evelyn Foxx (left) and School Board member Tina Certain (right) at her election watch party at Cypress and Grove Brewing Company on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
City Commissioner-elect Cynthia Chestnut (center) stands with Gainesville NAACP President Evelyn Foxx (left) and School Board member Tina Certain (right) at her election watch party at Cypress and Grove Brewing Company on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

Gainesville voted in its new city commissioner Jan. 25, ending five months of special elections, campaigning and run-offs.

In the days following the election, commissioner-elect Cynthia Moore Chestnut prepared for her position as city commissioner at-large seat B. 

Opposing candidate Matt Howland will be returning to his studies, flying between Gainesville and his classes at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The two candidates’ showdown began in November after Gail Johnson resigned from the seat. They ran against three other candidates during the first special election, but no one received more than 50% of the vote, resulting in a run-off election. 

Chestnut and Howland were the only candidates from the initial special election who progressed to the run-off. Tuesday night, Howland conceded once he was told there weren’t enough votes for him to win. Chestnut won by 244 votes

The Alachua County elections office was buzzing with excitement the night of the election. Three precincts had to drive in their memory cards due to loading issues, and one precinct had a power issue at the end of the night, Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim A. Barton said. 

“Every night, every election, we're always on pins and needles waiting on results to come in,” Barton said. “It’s always exciting but it's always a wait game. We've got to focus on the 2022 election and redistricting, of course. We've got to now turn our hearts towards that.”

To prepare for her term, Chestnut plans to attend City Commission meetings as a member of the public before her swearing-in ceremony Feb. 17. She will meet with city staff to be brought up to speed on current issues the commission is discussing, she said.

“I want to have a good understanding of the infrastructure monies and how they can be used and to look at ways that we can help our citizens,” she said. 

She attended her first City Commission meeting as a commissioner-elect on Thursday. 

UF political science and sustainability major Anton Kernohan was a member of Chestnut’s campaign staff. Three years ago, the 22-year-old interned with Chestnut and the Alachua County Democratic Party. 

“I didn't know if I wanted to dive into politics or not but it was under her leadership … that I realized this is what I wanted to do,” Kernohan said.

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When Chestnut won the election, Kernohan was happy for her. 

“I've worked on a lot of different campaigns before and some of them win, some of them have lost,” Kernohan said. “But seeing her win and seeing somebody that's been a mentor for me, it was actually a really heartwarming experience.” 

Chestnut hopes to continue her efforts toward the initiatives and issues she discussed during her campaign. 

“I'm going to be busy working with the community on voter education, educating the community on issues that the commission is dealing with and trying to get people more involved in the electoral process,” she said.

Howland will also continue his work on elections. However, this time he’ll be conducting electoral research rather than campaigning. He plans to resume his studies in a political communications research program in Washington D.C.

“I actually research misinformation and disinformation and its effect on voters,” he said. “The interesting thing is I might be able to use data from my campaign in my studies as well, which is pretty cool.”

Howland is thankful for his time as a City Commission candidate and feels the challenges thrown at him during the race only made him more resilient and patient.

“My mother passed away three weeks before the election,” he said. “One of my best friends passed away two weeks before the election. It was really difficult down the stretch but I definitely grew throughout the process.”

He’s now making it a goal to help further the careers of those that helped him on his campaign.

“My first priority is to find opportunities for all the incredible people that worked on my campaign that want to go on to work on other campaigns,” he said.

Claudia Tio-Cartagena, Howland’s 23-year-old campaign manager, is now working with District 3 Congressional candidate Danielle Hawk.

She’s proud of the work Howland’s team accomplished and hopes to continue organizing campaigns.

“I think we ran a really positive campaign — we ran a grassroots campaign,” she said. “We knocked on almost 8,000 doors all over Gainesville.”

Contact Melanie at or follow her on Twitter at @MelanieBombino_.

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Melanie Pena

Melanie Peña is a second-year business and journalism major. When she's not designing a graphic or writing an article, she's probably making jewelry or exploring coffee shops in Gainesville.

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