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Williams-Cox, Richardson Emerge As Likely 2016 Candidates As Dust Settles From 2014 Primary

Florida's primary is August 26th.
Nick Evans

Several local races have been decided in Tuesday night’s primary including one big upset.  While most incumbents won reelection, the future of Tallahassee and Leon County politics is already being talked about as political watchers look ahead to 2016.

There’s still a general election in November with more city and county races to be decided, but that’s not stopping local political expert John Reid from identifying certain people to watch during the 2016 election cycle, especially in House District Eight.

“I think Alan Williams won his re-election but I think Dianne, will definitely be the front-runner, if she chooses to run again in 2016,  and that makes her a winner tonight as well.”

Dianne Williams-Cox was out-raised by incumbent Democratic State Representative Alan Williams, who cinched his re-election. But this is Williams’ final term in the legislature, and Reid isn’t the only person who thinks Williams-Cox will be the person to beat next election cycle. Evin Power, Leon County Republican Party Vice Chairman, thinks so too. And he adds another name to the list of 2016 people to watch: Zack Richardson, a child advocate and head of the afterschool mentorship program, the Character Center.

“Zack Richardson was pretty much an unknown but he’s been able to come in and put out a positive message and bring in a new people and new ideas," Power says. "Andrew Gillum will probably win, but Zack Richardson is a face we’ll probably see again in Leon County.”

Richardson lost the mayoral race to heavy favorite Andrew Gillum, but Gillum still has to face a write-in candidate in the general election. Meanwhile, former State Representative Curtis Richardson defeated Florida Association of District School Superintendents spokeswoman Diana Oropallo for the city commission seat vacated by Gillum.

But the biggest upset of the night came in the defeat of Leon County School Board Chairman Forrest Van Camp. Reid says Van Camp lost his seat to newcomer, Deerlake Middle School teacher Alva Swafford Striplin. But what may have doomed his candidacy was a poor showing and a much talked-about showdown with the Tallahassee Democrat’s editorial board.

“Mr. Van Camp came across as a little defensive regarding his association with the Superintendent during his interview with the Tallahassee Democrat, and that itself became a story. And that was a big blow against him during the campaign," says Reid.

Embattled School Superintendent Jackie Pons held an election fundraiser for Van Camp prior to allegations that Pons steered school construction contracts to his political donors.

Meanwhile, mud flew in the city commission race where incumbent Nancy Miller beat challenger Steve Stewart. Power says the race was marked by a vicious mailer campaign on both sides. He says Miller supporters sent out a mailer targeting Stewart:

“It’s interesting on the Steve Stewart race against Nancy Miller that, for the third race in a row the Democratic party has injected themselves in a race in a controversial and semi-illegal way," Power says.

But Stewart’s campaign was under fire for a mailer it sent to supporters using former Senator Al Lawson’s likeness. Lawson is a Democrat, Stewart, a Republican. Meanwhile Reid says Stewart has been a strong voice for the community and thinks that will continue to be the case:

“I think Steve Stewart provides a valuable voice in the community, quite honestly. He calls for more transparency, higher ethical standards for our elected officials, and I think that’s a nice perspective to have. But he comes across as a little too abrasive for some.”

Stewart is one of the forces behind a local ethics reform initiative that could go before Tallahassee voters in November’s general election. Local voters will also decide two county commission races, the mayoral runoff and several local community board and district seats in November.

For more news updates, follow Lynn Hatter on twitter @HatterLynn

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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