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The Tallahassee mayor's race will determine the balance of power on the city commission

Three men facing the camera, smiling. The one on the left is Black with curly hair. The other two are white men with beards.
Margie Menzel
WFSU Public Media
(L-R) Leon County Commission candidate Josh Johnson, Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow and law student Matt Linsky celebrate Matlow's election victory.

Incumbent Tallahassee City Commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Dianne Williams-Cox were both reelected outright Tuesday night, backed by competing interests. Now the mayor’s race is essentially a tie -- with whoever is elected in November as the swing vote on a divided commission.

It’s fair to ask how members of the Tallahassee City Commission will get along going forward. Matlow and fellow Commissioner Jack Porter had been supporting the candidacy of Adner Marcelin, who ran against their colleague Williams-Cox. But Porter, celebrating at Matlow’s victory party, said it’s not a personal conflict.

“I don’t consider myself having worked against my colleague," Porter said. "I consider myself having worked towards a vision for Tallahassee and towards a government that is responsive to the people’s interests and the people’s priorities and needs.”

Williams-Cox, at her own celebration just up Gaines Street, agreed.

“I’m hoping that we’ll return to being the professionals that we all have the ability to be," she said. "And we’ll continue to move the agenda for the city of Tallahassee.”

But now three combative races have boiled down to one -- the mayor’s race. A bare handful of votes separate Mayor John Dailey, who is running for re-election, and three-term Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier. Dozier got into the race well after Dailey and was outspent more than two-to-one, but she edged him Tuesday night.

“I’ve been listening to the community for months," Dozier said. "People asking me from all different parts of the community, all political persuasions, to get into this race. Because they wanted real change, and it had not happened under John Dailey’s leadership.”

Dailey has two reliable allies on the commission: Williams-Cox and Commissioner Curtis Richardson. The three have outvoted Matlow and Porter time and again. Dailey and Dozier served together on the Leon County Commission from 2010 to 2018, when Dailey was elected mayor. They were on opposite sides of the controversial vote by the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency over a $27 million allocation for repairs to Florida State University’s Doak Campbell Stadium. Dailey voted in favor, Dozier against. Now Dailey acknowledges the run-off for mayor will be a tight race.

“But we’re ready. Tomorrow we’re going to wake up, we roll up our sleeves and go back to work. [WFSU: And are you optimistic about how things are going to go?] Oh, of course. I am absolutely humbled by the groundswell of support and the people that got up to vote and support me. And I am looking forward to winning in November and serving another four years as mayor.” 

The wild card could be Jeremy Matlow. He won his own race convincingly despite the fact that challenger David Bellamy raised the most money of any candidate in the election cycle. Matlow was non-committal when asked if he would campaign against Dailey. 

“Well, I would say the voters have rejected the leadership of Mayor Dailey. They’re going to a run-off. The type of mayor he’s been, he wasn’t able to win tonight, so let’s go to November, and the voters will have a choice then.”  

Hanging in the balance: how the city commission will handle poverty, gun violence, affordable housing, smart growth, childcare and early childhood education, transportation, conservation, homelessness -- and the shadow of corruption that still lingers after the indictments of two recent mayors.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.