It took eight months and four elections, but Tuesday night the Ocala City Council was finally made whole again.
Ire Bethea Sr. easily defeated Lonnie Hooks III to fill the District 2 seat vacated in September 2019 by longtime Councilwoman Mary Sue Rich. Bethea garnered 65.15 percent of the ballots, or 2,527 votes. Hooks tallied 34.84 percent, or 1,351 votes.
Tuesday’s special election was needed because it was discovered in November that the original winner of the seat, Tyrone Oliver, is a convicted felon. Oliver, the co-founder of an Ocala-based ministry, had defeated Bethea in a November runoff election after neither candidate garnered 50 percent plus one vote in the September general election.
The Ocala City Council launched an investigation into Oliver’s eligibility to serve as a councilmember in November and in December he was officially ruled ineligible to serve as the District 2 representative. In a specially called meeting on Dec. 20, councilmembers officially voted 4-1 against seating Oliver, with Councilmember Justin Grabelle making the motion. Councilman Brent Malever cast the lone “no” vote, pointing out that Oliver had cleaned up his life over the past 33 years.
The Council called for a special election in March to fill the open seat but none of the three candidates garnered enough votes. Bethea and Hooks were the top vote-getters with 47.37 percent and 27.78 percent, respectively. A third candidate, Ronald E. Landers Jr., nabbed 24.84 percent of the vote.
Bethea spent close to 30 years working for the Ocala Recreation and Parks Division – eight of those as the department head. He also was involved with the Boys and Girls Club and has remained active in various groups and with the youth of West Ocala.
Bethea is scheduled to be seated at the next City Council meeting on June 2. He will quickly find himself in the heat of battle, as councilmembers purposely have held off on selecting a new city manager and making a decision on Mayor Kent Guinn’s veto in March of an ordinance allowing construction and demolition landfills in the western part of the city until the District 2 seat was filled.
Only 10.4 percent of the 37,446 registered voters in Ocala cast ballots in Tuesday’s special election. Of those, only 788 were cast on Election Day, while 3,090 were sent in by mail.