With her hand on the Bible her mother gave her 49 years ago, Cynthia Chestnut repeated the oath of office during her City Commissioner swearing-in ceremony.
On Thursday morning, Chestnut was sworn in as At-Large Seat B City Commissioner outside Gainesville City Hall after winning the special runoff election Jan. 25. The position will be a four-year term with elections every two years starting this year, according to a City of Gainesville press release.
In 1987, Chestnut became the first Black, female City Commissioner and the first Black female Gainesville Mayor in 1989. She stayed in city, county and state government for the next 20 years.
In this election, she ran on the promises to lower utility bills, implement renewable energy options and protect neighborhoods from gentrification. After winning the election, she reaffirmed her focus on voter and local government education.
More than 40 people attended the ceremony, including former Congresswoman Corrine Brown, former Florida Representative Edward L. Jennings Jr. and president of the Alachua County Branch NAACP Evelyn Foxx. Mayor Lauren Poe began the ceremony by talking about the weight of the oath.
“I just want to remind everybody that this oath that she is about to take is the same oath that every elected official across our entire nation at every level of government also takes,” Poe said. “It is a bond that we make with the people we serve to protect the Constitution of the United States, the state of Florida and our local government.”
Chestnut’s family and friends attended the ceremony to support her. Her brother Pastor Michael R. Moore led the invocation, allowing guests to pray to whatever power they believed in. When the time came for Chestnut to be sworn in, she asked her family to join her in front of the city hall and crowd of attendees.
“They are the backbone of everything that I do. They helped me. They helped in laying the foundation. It was very important to have them,” Chestnut said.
She emphasized the importance of the date the ceremony was held on because February is Black History Month.
Foxx, who met Chestnut 28 years ago, believes that Chestnut’s election was meant to be.
“God does everything for a reason. When she ran back in November, we thought she would have won then, but God fixed it so she'd won in January and now in February,” Foxx said.
Former City Commissioner and Mayor Aaron Green has known Chestnut since she was in high school.
Seeing her holding public office again feels like being in a flashback, Green said.
“I think her return to local public office is very much needed at this time because we have a lot of problems here in the city that I think her experience and maturity can help address and give some stability and guidance to her fellow commissioners and the staff to try to get as corrected and on course to deal with today's problems,” Green said.
Prior to her swearing-in, students from the Reichert House Youth Academy Color Guard marched in dark uniforms and waved their flags in a color guard performance.
At the end of the ceremony, the city elected its Mayor Pro Tem, City Commissioner Reina Saco. Saco will serve as the Mayor Pro Tem for the remainder of the year.
“It's a little overwhelming in the moment, only because it is a lot of responsibility,” Saco said. “If the mayor's ever absent, I'm up on deck. It's sort of tradition that the next senior-most person takes the seat.”
Saco admires Chesnut’s past experience and looks forward to working with her.
“She was a trailblazer as a woman and a woman of color,” she said. “To have someone with that much experience come back to the commission and help us is going to amazing.”
Melanie Peña is a freshman majoring in Business (hoping to specialize in pre-law) and journalism. This semester she is the City and County Commission reporter. When she's not writing an article, she's probably designing a graphic or exploring coffee shops in Gainesville.