It is with a heavy heart that I write this while processing the staggering news that Jerry NeSmith passed away unexpectedly Saturday night. Jerry was a caring human being who identified as a servant leader and worked tirelessly throughout his lifetime in many capacities to embody that spirit.

We did not always agree on the details of how to advance our society toward justice and peace. Yet I’ve always understood Jerry to be someone deeply committed to bettering the lives of people while striving for a healthier planet. The rapid outpouring of love and sadness from across our community makes clear how great a loss his passing is and how many lives Jerry touched.

Electoral politics generate conversations built around contrast, and through that discourse we grow individually and collectively. Yet the sharp focus on contrast in the run-up to election day often sits at odds with the recognition that we as human beings contain multitudes and navigate this complex world in a nuanced fashion. I believe Jerry dug into that nuance time and again as he worked within complex systems for the people he endeavored to serve. Tomorrow is election day, and I regret that I will never get to share the conversation over a drink with him that I had envisioned would follow its conclusion all this time. I know he would have welcomed such a conversation and that we would have continued to engage each other meaningfully, despite our differences, because that is how he lived and worked. Sadly, we will not get to do that.

That sadness, however, is profoundly outweighed by the grief of Jerry’s wife, Farol, his children Jason and Noel, and their family and friends. Jerry’s life touched thousands of people, and my deepest sympathies and thoughts are with them at this time. I hope those reading this will offer them support and space to process this in private as they need.

Many people are reaching out with questions about what this means for tomorrow’s election and for the District 6 Commission seat. ACC Attorney Judd Drake is currently working on answers to these questions, and we anticipate having a clearer understanding soon. Our always uncertain future currently includes some uncertainty about my formal role in this community. However, there is time for us to figure that out, and such ambiguity at this time pales in comparison to the certain loss suffered by Jerry’s untimely passing. At this time I ask that we all honor the life of Jerry NeSmith and the grief of his loved ones.

We will refrain from further campaign activity until tomorrow’s election results are tallied and we have clearer understanding from Attorney Drake about how those results relate to the future of District 6. As of yesterday morning, we have pulled all ads on social media and canceled our outreach efforts (canvassing, phonebanking, texting, etc.). This is now a time to reflect and to support others’ efforts for real change.

It remains critically important to vote tomorrow. There are many contested races on the ballot for the voters of District 6, especially in the Democratic primary. If you’ve yet to vote early or by mail, please make sure to vote tomorrow. Please also encourage others to do the same.

More information on where and when to vote can be found here. If you remain undecided on some of the other contests, I recommend reviewing the voter guides published by Athens for Everyone and Athens Politics Nerd, who published a nonpartisan voter guide for judges and Commission races and a separate voter guide for the Democratic primary.

Beyond electoral politics, we have an immense amount of work to do. Saturday’s powerful rally downtown and subsequent demonstration in College Square exemplified everything that makes me proud to call Athens my home. Whichever way the days ahead unfold, I will continue to stand and walk with the people of Athens in the long struggle for economic and racial justice.

With love in solidarity,
Jesse Houle