By: LaVender Shedrick Williams
What does a high school basketball coach know about running a property appraiser’s office? Many Gadsden County voters publicly and privately pondered that question when Coach Reginald Cunningham, Head Basketball Coach for East Gadsden High School, decided to run for the office of property appraiser – again. Cunningham ran for the office in 2012 and lost by just under 100 votes, but came back four years later with a strategic play to run a full court press in the 2016 General Election. Cunningham’s opponent was the twelve-year incumbent who changed his party affiliation from Democrat to NPA with hopes of gaining a lead in the election, but Cunningham secured the lead in Early Voting and won the election by just under 3,000 votes. Not only did Cunningham win, but he made history and was sworn in on Wednesday, December 21st as Gadsden County’s first African American Property Appraiser.
The Honorable Judge Kathy Garner who is also the first African American Judge in Gadsden County conducted the Oath of Office. It was definitely a memorable day of firsts for the Cunningham Family and the Gadsden County community as clergy, community leaders, and family and friends from as far as Orlando and Louisiana attended to witness the historical swearing in. Pastor Ohara Black, New Life Ministries, said during his inspirational reflection, “Cunningham has one of the most significant government positions in the county because property and land are power.”
How did he do it? Although the Secretary of State’s Office reports that Democrats hold the majority of registered voters in Gadsden County, Cunningham, a Democrat, was focused on getting those registered voters to the polls. “It wasn’t an easy task. I knew I had to make my campaign inspiring and motivating enough to get voters excited enough to want to go out and not only vote but vote for me. Gadsden County needs leaders, not just politicians and I knew I could make a difference as property appraiser.” The Bethune-Cookman graduate who was the leading college basketball scorer in the nation in 1992 understands the meaning of determination, endurance, and finishing strong. His leadership on the court as a player and later as a coach helped prepare him to campaign strong and to win. He mentioned if he had not won this election, he would have definitely run a third time.
Cunningham’s win was unexpected to many in the Gadsden community because he had no property appraiser experience. It was Cunningham’s character, versatile skills, and his history of being a proven, influential community leader that gained the unquestionable trust of many doubting voters, both Democrat and Republican. Cunningham started his appraiser training before being sworn in, which exemplifies his tenacity and eagerness to fill the position. He says, “There is a lot of information to learn and I’ll share my knowledge with the community. My campaign platform was to inform and educate and that’s my goal.”
“History may have been made, but there is a lot of work to be done not only in the property appraiser’s office but in the community as well. I love Gadsden County and I’m humbled and inspired that the community trusts me to be in another position of leadership to help our county. My win is for the greater good of Gadsden.”