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First-time local candidates find wins in losing

Three people sitting at a table with microphones and bottles of water in front of them and an American flag behind them
Lydell Rawls
/
WFSU Public Media
(L-R) Terrance L. Barber, Donna Pearl Cotterell and Bill Proctor participate in a candidate forum at WFSU

The races for Tallahassee mayor and three Leon County Commission seats are still wide open after the primary election. For those candidates who are no longer in the running, the question may be whether to run again.

First-time candidate Donna Pearl Cotterell has been a teacher, founder of a nonprofit, and a member of the Citizen’s Police Review Board. She ran against County Commissioner Bill Proctor -- no easy task, as Proctor has been in office since 1995. He was re-elected outright with almost 58 percent of the vote, but she says she wasn’t unhappy with her first run.

“I am brand-new to politics,” she said. “I actually didn’t even think about a serious bid until the end of May. And so, considering how late I jumped in the race, I am pleased with the number of votes I got. I mean, I got about 18% of the votes. [WFSU: Congratulations.] Thank you. That’s a win! I’m going to take that as a win.”

And if she runs again, she knows at least one of her talking points:

“I’m hoping that the ideas I brought forth during the campaign -- especially the arts, where I’m so passionate about it -- that we do invest more in our District 1 neighborhoods, bringing the arts to our children,” she said. “That will help reduce our crime rate for sure.”

Adner Marcelin worked for years with civil-rights attorney Ben Crump and served as president of the Tallahassee NAACP. Then he ran against Tallahassee City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox, who was re-elected outright with 52% of the vote over Marcelin and Shelby Green. But Marcelin could see himself running again.

“Getting to meet the different sections of our community, spending time with many of our neighbors, and just amassing this amount of support for a first run was very rewarding, and I had fun doing it,” he said. “I don’t see an issue with doing that and I wouldn’t rule it out in the future again.”

First-time candidate David Bellamy is an orthopedic surgeon and part-time police officer. He lost to City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow in a bruising contest despite raising more money than anyone else in the election cycle. He says it was a positive experience, but at this point, he’s not inclined to run again.

“Probably not,” Bellamy said. “I wouldn’t want to have to go through the fund-raising again. That was the least enjoyable part. The rest really was actually fairly enjoyable.”

It’s been a long time since Marjorie Turnbull first raised money to run for office. She served two at-large terms as a Leon County Commissioner starting in 1988, followed by three terms in the Florida House of Representatives. Before running for anything, she was president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations and usually attended city and county commission meetings on behalf of the council.

“And if out of that, elective office comes, or you get asked to run for office, then you understand why you’re doing it,” Turnbull said. “You’re doing it for really a higher purpose. You’re doing it to make sure that people have the things they need to make their lives better.”

Turnbull raised about $18,000 in her first run for office. She says the electorate must be very careful about the role of money in politics.

“Fewer and fewer really good people are going to take the jump to run for office because raising money is not easy,” she said. “And if what you’re wanting to do is connect with the electorate, connect with the voters, and yet you’re spending most of your time raising money, you’re missing a great deal in terms of why you’re running in the first place.”

The most important thing, she says, is running for the right reasons.

“You shouldn’t start out with the idea you’re going to run for elective office. You should start with What can I do for my community? How can I get involved with my community? Learn your community? Understand your community? Love your community?”  

Adner Marcelin and David Bellamy ended on that note as well.

“It really comes down to the values of our community,” said Marcelin. “That is something I believe in. That is something I will stand firm in. And I have no regrets. I would have done it again.”   

“Meeting lots of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met that are wonderful folks,” said Bellamy. “As much as I thought I knew about the city, I learned even more. It was just a good experience overall and something I always wanted to do, so I’m very glad I did it.”

For potential candidates interested in how to run for office, click here.

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.