When she decided not to run for election to another term as Gainesville’s Ward 1 representative on the City Council in 2003, Gainesville’s first female mayor, Emily “Sissy” Lawson, called Ruth Bruner.
Bruner, Lawson’s neighbor, had originally been Lawson’s appointment to the city’s Board of Education in 1991, when the city school system was a part of the city government. Bruner served on the school board until 2000, and later took Lawson up on a suggestion that she run for the City Council in 2003.
“I knew she’d do a great job and she did,” Lawson said. “She’s a very, very smart lady. She’s very bright and dedicated.”
The rest, you could say, is history.
Bruner, a native of Rock Hill, S.C., has held the Ward 1 post on the council since 2004, and today at 9 a.m., Lawson will watch as Bruner is sworn in as Gainesville’s new mayor.
The council historically has rotated the position among the five members, changing the mayor every two years. After a nonbinding referendum in November, the council and the state legislators are considering changing the mayor’s position to an elected one.
Using the current system of rotation with a council full of members who have served multiple terms, Bruner will be the first to become mayor for the first time since Mark Musselwhite served a short stint as mayor in 2006.
“It’s always exhilarating and exciting to be the leader even though we rotate the mayor,” Bruner said. “I think we need some dynamic leadership really on a regional basis to push Gainesville to the next level.”
And while most of her role as mayor will be ceremonial — representing the council at various meetings and events — Bruner hopes that she can help the council forge public-private partnerships that will stimulate the local economy and make Gainesville a regional retail hub.
Bruner said she hopes at the end of her term, there will be more housing on the way in downtown Gainesville and Lake Lanier will be as accessible to the general public as it is to owners of lakeside real estate.
“I think with taking the tourism and the Main Street functions in-house we can really work to market and brand Gainesville and put it on the map in a way that we haven’t been able to do before,” Bruner said. “I do think it will be fun to be the mayor and to push forward some things that I’m really interested in.”
Bruner, a graduate of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, has been a Gainesville resident since 1974. When Bruner was 27, she and her husband, Robert Bruner, moved to Gainesville to set up his dental practice. Bruner, with a master’s degree in social work, owned a local nursing care business from 1984 to 2002. She and Robert Bruner have two sons, Marshall and David.
“We came in a good time and have been here ever since,” Bruner said.
Gainesville’s new mayor is no stranger to politics. The daughter of a state senator and superior court judge and the sister of a state senator, Ruth Bruner said she grew up in South Carolina politics.
When she came to Gainesville, Bruner helped start the now-defunct local League of Women Voters, which in the 1970s and 1980s, monitored City Council and County Commission meetings and sponsored candidate debates.
Today, Bruner said she is happy with her role on the City Council, where she feels like her work directly effects her constituents.
“I think a lot of people don’t think that’s exciting — they want to work on state and national issues...” Bruner said. “But to me, when you’re working on a local level, it really affects people’s lives the most, because that’s where things touch them closely, whether it’s a pothole that gets fixed in front of their road or a new sidewalk or trees that don’t get cut down and streets that get paved and trash that gets picked up on time — those things really make a difference in the day-to-day of people’s lives.
“And I really think that’s what’s rewarding, when you feel like you’re making people’s lives better.”