3 issues to watch for in Gainesville’s Ward 3 City Council runoff
• Will Latino voters turn out as strongly in the runoff as they did in the general election now that Latino candidate Lemuel Betancourt is no longer in the race?
• How low will overall voter turnout be?
• What influence will current council members, including outgoing Myrtle Figueras and Bob Hamrick, have in the outcome?
Just 123 ballots were cast during early voting for Gainesville’s Ward 3 City Council runoff on Dec. 1.
And only 25 absentee ballots have been returned for counting.
That’s cause for concern for Barbara Brooks and Andre Cheek, who are vying to replace Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras as the representative for the city’s historically African-American neighborhoods and growing Latino community.
“I’d like to see a robust turnout, but that’s what everyone’s predicting,” Brooks, a retired school social worker, said of the low turnout.
About 18 percent of registered voters in the city cast ballots in the November general election, the highest turnout in recent municipal elections. But officials expect that number to fall in the runoff.
“I’ve been working overtime to get out the vote,” Cheek, an outreach unit program coordinator for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, said. “The cost to the city is an extreme amount (if people don’t vote).”
It’s particularly important for Cheek that turnout is strong.
Cheek claimed 28 percent of the vote earlier this month, while Brooks captured 44 percent. A candidate must receive 50 percent plus one of the total votes to win outright.
“My committee has been super busy (in the weeks since),” Cheek said. “We have not slept, I like to think.”
Knocking on doors, making phone calls and moving campaign signs to attract more visibility, Cheek said her campaign is focused on attracting new voters.
Brooks, meanwhile, has held meet-and-greets with neighbors and businesses, while also mailing cards and repairing campaign signs
“You name it and that’s been my work over the last few weeks,” she said.
Brooks has also been attending council work sessions and meetings to stay on top of the latest issues and concerns in the community, she said.
“You want to have some idea of what’s going on,” she added. “The issues don’t stop coming.”
Cheek, a noted note-taker who measures her words, urged voters to do their research on each candidate’s qualifications, experience and preparation for the job.
“Consider all of those things and then make a decision about who will be the most qualified candidate for this seat over the next four years,” she added.
Win or lose, both candidates said the race had been hugely beneficial for Ward 3.
The level of competition and interest has never been greater, as evidenced by the number of candidates and voter turnout in the general election.
“I think, at the very least, a level of interest has been shown in who represents Ward 3 and what issues are important to Ward 3,” Brooks said. “It’s almost like a time for Ward 3 to wake up. I don’t mean that it’s been asleep. But there’s new energy, excitement.”
“This is a historic event for our community,” Cheek said. “I’d like to think that as those residents of Ward 3 reflect on this process, it will kind of ignite them” to become more involved.