Students and politics, like oil and vinegar?


Published: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 10:21 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 10:21 a.m.

Mission Impossible

Students getting involved in politics in a city where they will live for about four years - sounds unlikely.

But Michael Belle is on a mission to change that.

Belle, a 23-year-old former University of Florida student, is running for mayor of Gainesville. One of Belle's main campaign messages is that students can band together and influence Gainesville politics.

"A voteless people is a hopeless people," said Belle, who is a full-time volunteer for the Dennis Kucinich presidential campaign. "Students don't feel like they have the qualifications and knowledge to vote."

Belle is running against the incumbent Mayor Tom Bussing, banker C.B. Daniel and Pegeen Hanrahan, an engineer and former city commissioner.

Striking a nerve

Some politically active students, like Andrea Garces, think Belle's campaign will capture student votes.

"People like to be able to identify with their candidates," said Garces, treasurer of the UF College Democrats.

While she has met Belle and approves of his leadership, she doesn't agree with his Kucinich endorsement, Garces said.

Garces added that even if Belle doesn't win he will "bring students' rights to the forefront of the race and will emphasize the need to be upfront about topics."

Not all students think Belle's campaign will help improve the student standing with city government.

Mary Cox, chair of the UF College Republicans, said Belle is joining a long line of failed attempts by students to overtake the local government.

"The business of running a city with over 100,000 residents is not a light task, and we need qualified people in these positions," said Cox.

She said she doesn't think Belle's race will attract students either.

"In the last city commission race less than 100 people voted on campus," Cox said. "I'd like to see that number drastically increase, but Belle is not the candidate that will foster better results."

Cox said a mayoral campaign based on towing fees and keeping the clubs open longer reflects poorly on the student body.

While Belle's campaign Web site includes opening discussion of extending the hours clubs are open, it also states he supports making more bike lanes and he is against a pay increase for the city commission.

Common goals

Although Cox and Garces have different opinions about Belle, both agree that student involvement in local politics needs to improve.

"If every UF student voted at local elections and on city issues we would completely swamp the local vote, pun intended," Garces said.

Cox encouraged students to change their voter registration from their hometown to Alachua County where they are more likely to be involved.

For example, local officials control sales tax, gas tax and property tax that affects rent, as well as influencing jobs and environmental issues, Cox said.

For students who want to get more involved, Cox said the best starting

point is a political organization on campus or the county political parties.

Belle noted the election is during spring break, March 9. He suggested taking a bus downtown to the County Administration Building on 12 SE 1st St. to vote early between Feb 23 and March 5.

The deadline to register for the election is February 8. You can register downtown in the County Administration Building.

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