Decency Survives City Elections, Barely

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Posted September 24, 2021 | Sadie Fitzpatrick

Editor’s Note: Sadie Fitzpatrick uses this space to explore the character and quirks that make Ocala uniquely wonderful and occasionally irksome

Phew, we made it. Kind of.

It’s several days post-election, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say this was the most vicious local political race in recent memory.

From a barrage of attack ad mailers to scathing posts by armchair political pundits on social media, Ocala twisted into something I didn’t recognize—a city with individuals focused on winning at all costs, forgetting that it was Ocala who must ultimately win, not the individuals themselves.

This race was not only monumental in its ferocity but historic in its voter turnout. More than 25.96% of Ocalans turned out to vote in this year’s election, smashing the previous record of 13.9% for a City Council election in 2009.

Barry Mansfield narrowly defeated incumbent Brent Malever for District 1 while Jim Hilty returns to the District 5 seat he previously held from 2013-2017. Kent Guinn will return as Ocala’s mayor, a position he has held since December 2011.

Though a record number of voters cast their ballots, we must endure two more runoff elections on Nov. 16 for the District 3 and District 4 seats as no one candidate achieved a majority of the votes.

Incumbent Jay Musleh and Ty Schlichter will face off for the District 3 slot while Kristen Dreyer and Lori Martin Gregory will compete for the District 4 seat vacated by Matthew Wardell.

As we nurse our post-election hangovers, battered and bruised from this election that spewed hate at every turn, we must now ready ourselves for what will surely be more showdowns before Nov. 16.

In an effort to heal as a city after this tumultuous election cycle and to gear up for the runoff elections ahead, there are a few lessons on which we can reflect that will hopefully move us forward:

  1. Change is frightening but it does not have to be limiting. The idea of having a new mayor after 10 years with our current mayor unnerved many voters. With Mr. Guinn’s win, I hope he will consider the issues raised by the citizens who may not have voted for him and work to gain their confidence. He has the ability to make powerful changes in our community, and I hope he embraces this.
  2. Women are making strong headway serving in local government. The outpouring of female candidates is a reflection that we, as a community, are pushing back against entrenched and stale ways of thinking and are looking for more diverse and inclusive decision-making.
  3. We had three candidates for the crowded District 4 race who were relatively unknown before throwing their hats in the ring. Though they did not win, it showed that a street preacher, an Ocala transplant and a former teacher can all get a shot at serving the city they’ve grown to love.
  4. I stood on my soapbox here and behind the podium at City Hall to argue that the city charter should revise masculine pronouns to include the female equivalent. This was put on the ballot for approval by the citizens of Ocala and only 57% voted in favor. For the love of all things holy, this has nothing to do with bathrooms or youth sports, but instead focuses on making sure women (like those I mentioned in bullet point 2) are represented in our city’s legal document. This slim approval illustrated that we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that women in both government and Ocala are equally represented.
  5. Being an incumbent does not mean you are a shoo-in. Bravo to those who had the courage to run against long-time officeholders. Though some of you didn’t win, you were formidable, and both your opponents and the public took notice.
  6. At the end of the day, those who didn’t resort to mudslinging via robocalls and slick National Enquirer-esque mailers were victorious, even if they didn’t win their seats. It’s possible to run a clean campaign and stay true to yourself without fighting dirty, and I hope the candidates facing runoff elections will remember this. In the words of Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.”

This election season was difficult. It hardened us, a town that’s known for its warm and welcoming spirit. We lost sight of why we have a mayor and a City Council; we elect them to make our beloved Ocala the best place to live, work and play.

Now, it’s a new day. We’ve faced trials like this as a town before and we’ve come out stronger. Put this election behind us, holding tight to the lessons it taught us. Let’s move forward not only stronger but softer, more caring.

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