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Dunagan wins Gainesville's mayor race without runoff
Former mayor, council member first to be elected to position
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Danny Dunagan hugs his son Tripp as wife Mary-Lee Dunagan and daughter Mary-Rollins Lothridge look at election returns Tuesday night at YellowFin restaurant. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Gainesville mayor

Charles Alvarez 109, 6 percent
Danny Dunagan 1,144, 62 percent
Debra Harkrider 211, 11 percent
Rose Johnson 381, 21 percent

What's next: Danny Dunagan will be sworn into office in December.

Danny Dunagan won the position of mayor in a historic race that saw little interest from most Gainesville residents.

This was the first time Gainesville voters directly elected a mayor. Dunagan received 62 percent of the vote, with Rose Johnson coming in a distant second with 21 percent. Charles Alvarez and Debra Harkrider split the rest of the vote, with Harkrider earning 11 percent and Alvarez getting 6 percent.

Dunagan hugged family and friends upon hearing the election results, his eyes red with unshed tears. He kidded Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras that he would be back to “aggravate her.”

“I’m very humble,” he said. “The support’s been overwhelming, and I just want to thank the citizens of Gainesville for their support and we’re going to work with the council and move this city forward like it’s always moved forward before.”

Johnson said she was pleased with her results and would be back in four years to do it again.

“I actually feel great,” she said. “We spent a lot of time getting to voters and educating voters about the importance of having an elected mayor. We’re not going to stop.”

Turnout was 13.4 percent, far below expectations for Charlotte Sosebee, Hall County elections director, who projected 25 percent. Voter participation was also below the last city election, which was about 14 percent.

The lack of engagement disappointed Harkrider.

“The main thing that really bothers me is not everyone that could vote got out and voted,” she said. “Because we all complain about everything, but if you don’t get out and vote, you really have no right.”

The new mayoral post, set up with voter approval in a 2009 referendum, carries a four-year term and the spotlight of being the first person to assume the office. The mayor, unlike in the past, will not vote on issues unless there is a split or a need to provide a fourth “yes” vote needed for approval.

Candidate Alvarez said he wished Dunagan luck in his new position and said he hoped his campaign helps motivate Latino residents to be more engaged in the process.

“Wishing him the best, meaning Gainesville all the best,” he said. “I hope I can serve as a plow to open the political scene for the Hispanic community and others to step in and step forward, to get involved. To me, it’s been a win-win.”

There was a special effort by the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials to get Hispanic city residents to the polls. Jerry Gonzalez, executive director for GALEO, said he expects its efforts made a difference in the city’s Hispanic population.

“We’ve worked for it,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve canvassed all 1,500 (Hispanic) voters, we’ve called and sent mailers out to folks, so we certainly do expect that there’s going to be a better turnout than in years past.”

The Gainesville City Council also grew for the first time since 1958 when the council went from three members to five.

The City Council will have six seats going forward, with five people representing five wards, plus the mayor, for a total of six on the council. Previously one of the five council members has served as mayor, with the position elected by the council and rotating every two years.

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