Candidates gearing up in city race

Published: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 1:02 a.m.
The ballot for this spring's Gainesville City Commission race is already filling up with a cast of characters from three parties hoping to influence the politically splintered board.
And with four seats - including two seats created when 15,000 new residents were annexed into the city on Sept. 1 - up for grabs, it's anybody's game.
Seven candidates had registered for the April 8 election by Friday afternoon, according to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office. One candidate, however, said he plans to withdraw from the race, and others are expected to register before the qualifying period ends on Feb. 21.
With candidates from three parties - Democrat, Republican and Green - the election is shaping up to be a power struggle among political groups, though the races are technically nonpartisan.
During the past County Commission and City Commission races, four candidates who campaigned on creating new jobs through better relationships with current and prospective businesses beat their opponents who were more focused on environmental and growth management issues.
Mildred Russell, past chairwoman of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee, said voters showed in the last city election that they're looking for a balance between growth and environmental concerns.
The wave of conservatism should carry Republicans to victory this year, she said.
"I think that showed that people are really beginning to be aware of local government and the importance of having conservatives in office. I believe that a number of people in Gainesville that live here and pay taxes here are concerned about the direction of our government," she said.
But Chuck Floyd, chairman of the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee, said it won't be as easy for the Republicans to make a sweep this time.
"The Democrats were not together in the last election. That's exactly what happened," he said. Although the Democratic Executive Committee can't support one Democratic candidate over the other, he said Democrats need to rally behind the candidates that are most likely to win.
Floyd said unfolding international events - including possible war with Iraq, tensions over nuclear weapons in North Korea, rising gas prices and an unstable stock market - could have a significant impact on the Gainesville races because of uncertainty over national security and the economy.
"You cannot ever say that national and state politics don't have an effect on local politics," he said.

District 1

Incumbent Chuck Chestnut, a Democrat, is the only registered candidate for District 1, which includes much of east Gainesville and is considered a Democratic stronghold.
Chestnut, 40, an office manager at Chestnut Funeral Home, said he wants to continue the work he's begun during his first three-year term in office. Those projects include improving infrastructure in neighborhoods and cleaning up abandoned lots.
If elected to a second term, Chestnut said he'd like to push for more affordable housing and regulate "predatory" lending and check-cashing places that charge "astronomical" fees to poor people. He also wants to see the city annex land along Hawthorne Road and near Eastside High School.
"We're doing a lot of annexations in the west. We want to do some east, too, so people see there is some sort of fairness in terms of annexing areas," he said.
Chestnut has at least one potential opponent: Germaine Ferguson, a 46-year-old facilities coordinator for Tower Hill Insurance.
Ferguson, a Democrat who said he is strongly considering switching to the Republican Party, plans to decide whether to enter the race sometime next week.
Ferguson said he's not sure he wants to run because it will be difficult to compete against Chestnut, who belongs to a well-known family. Ferguson said, however, that someone needs to replace him.
"I'm just not sure if I want to fight the status quo here. It's so entrenched here," he said. "I think we need some new ideas."
"The leadership has been basically underserving. You need a hard-nosed type of guy who has experience in community development," he said, adding that Gainesville needs programs to establish small minority businesses as well as attracting clean industries.
Ferguson ran unsuccessfully for a County Commission seat two years ago.

District 4

Two Democrats, both with experience in local politics, have registered to run in the newly created District 4. The district includes many of the city's oldest neighborhoods, as well as the University of Florida and the "student ghetto" area.
Brad Guy, 44, assistant director at UF's Center for Construction and the Environment, is a member of the city's Plan Board.
He said he doesn't want to see development occur on top of already-established neighborhoods, but wants to get rid of blight in poorer, run-down areas to allow new growth to occur.
"It's really time to shift and work hard on the downtown and east, to get it in a position to catch up with the rest of the community," he said.
Guy will face Craig Lowe, a computer programmer at UF's Center for Library Automation.
"I think when people look at the City Commission today, they see a need for someone to provide positive leadership and put forth constructive approaches," said Lowe, 45, a member of the county's Democratic Executive Committee.
He said new developments should be consistent with the existing character of neighborhoods, while neglected areas need to be revitalized.
Though District 4 encompasses historic neighborhoods with high property values, he said there are still several economically depressed areas that need attention, particularly east Gainesville.
"What happens in one part of the city impacts the entire city," he said.
Both Guy and Lowe have served on a number of city and regional councils.
Former City Commissioner Mark Goldstein said he is considering running for the seat, but may decide against it because of work commitments. Instead, Goldstein said he'd like to see a woman win the seat.
No women are currently on the commission.
"I'd very much like to see a very solid, good, experienced public interest woman running," he said.

At-large seat 1

Incumbent Warren Nielsen, 57, said Friday he plans to run for office. However, he has not officially registered as a candidate yet.
Nielsen is a Democrat. Former state representative Bob Casey, a retired family physician, has registered as a candidate, but said Saturday he plans to withdraw from the race.
"I just didn't have the fire in my belly to proceed," said Casey, a Republican who ran for the Florida Senate in 2000, but was defeated by Democrat Rod Smith.

At-large seat 2

The election for Gainesville's second new seat is shaping up to be the most politically diverse race, with candidates from three parties - a Republican, a Democrat and a Green - already on the ballot.
Rob Brinkman, who announced his candidacy Friday at a news conference on the steps of City Hall, is a former co-chair of the Alachua County Green Party and the organization's state delegate.
"I believe that the City Commission needs to build a fence of cooperation and begin working together for some common-sense solutions," said Brinkman, a 48-year-old carpenter. "It seems like there's just a lot of infighting and not a lot of progress being made."
Brinkman's platform includes community redevelopment and increasing the flexibility of regulations that affect local businesses.
Former mayoral candidate and UF student Adam Guillette, a Republican, said he wants to push for safer streets, better planning of development and government accountability. He also wants to help bring more jobs to the area.
"Gainesville is a community where people deserve jobs. We live in a situation where nearly a quarter of the population is below the poverty level, and to me that is abysmal and unacceptable," he said.
Guillette, 21, said he plans to eventually complete a political science degree. He said he has about a year of coursework remaining.
Guillette, a former Libertarian, is publisher of the student-targeted weekly Gator Standard newspaper, and chairman of the Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit organization he says promotes and educates people "about liberty and freedom." He also founded the Liberty Project, a political action committee that promotes fewer government restrictions and more personal responsibility.
Democrat Rick Bryant, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 2 seat in 2002, said he wants to reverse his defeat.
"I just felt like it was an unfinished campaign from last time," said Bryant, who missed the runoff by 68 votes.
Bryant, the coordinator of graduate admissions at UF and co-owner of a local Godfather's Pizza, said he wants to help create more job opportunities, better protect neighborhoods and develop a stronger parks and recreation system.
"Funding's the key," he said. "Gainesville has pretty much come to accept the fact that we're mediocre."
Ashley Rowland can be reached at 374-5095 or rowlana@

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