Michael Dunn was elected to the Lakeland City Commission today, marking the first time in decades that first-time office holders comprised a majority of the board overseeing Lakeland’s city government.
Dunn received 54 percent of the vote, defeating Larry Durrence, who served on the commission from 1981 to 1989.

Durrence, 78, and Dunn, 46, faced off in a runoff election because neither won more than 50 percent in the vote in a four-way contest Nov. 7 for the southwest seat on the commission. In that race, Durrence tallied 46 percent of the vote and Dunn 37 percent.

When he’s seated in January, Dunn will be joined by three political novices who were elected in November — Bill Mutz as mayor and Scott Franklin and Stephanie Madden as commissioners.

Rounding out the commission are third-term incumbents Justin Troller and Phillip Walker and first-term Commissioner Bill Read.

This is Dunn’s fourth attempt at public office, having run for the County Commission in 2000 and for seats on the City Commission in 2005 and 2009.

In 2009, he lost to Don Selvage, whose seat he is now assuming. Selvage decided against seeking re-election at the end of his term.

Dunn, who owns Vets Surplus on Florida Avenue downtown, ran a campaign that contrasted his relative youth compared with Durrence and his outlook as an entrepreneur compared with Durrence’s “entrenched” resume as a former commissioner, professor, state official and college president.

While campaigning, both Durrence and Dunn promoted themselves as fiscal conservatives pushing to make city government more customer-centric.

Major differences emerged in their approach to the Munn Park Confederate monument and the proposal to reduce Florida Avenue from five lanes to three in Dixieland.

Durrence is amenable to relocating the monument while Dunn is solidly opposed. Durrence favors a one-year test of the South Florida Avenue “road diet” while Dunn wants other north-south road improvements tried.

Positions on the City Commission are non-partisan. While four of the seven seats represent geographic districts, candidates for all seats run citywide.

Voter turnout in today’s election was 11.5 percent, half of the 23 percent turnout for the November election, which included a high-profile ballot issue on the form of city government.

A ballot two years ago that similarly included only a single City Commission election yielded a 12 percent turnout.

For Durrence, this was an election season with mixed results. He was a leader in the No Boss Mayor organization that was successful in defeating a ballot initiative that would have created a “strong mayor” system of government for Lakeland.

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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