City's elections draw 4 hopefuls


Published: Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Four candidates qualified for Gainesville's spring elections by Friday's deadline, leaving voters with two choices for each of the two City Commission seats that will be up for grabs this year.
The candidates are running in the March 7 election for the seats that will be left vacant by Commissioners Warren Nielsen and Chuck Chestnut. Both commissioners are prohibited from seeking re-election by term limits, which restrict the city's election officials to two consecutive three-year terms.
Nielsen's at-large seat on the commission, which represents the full city, has drawn as candidates Jeanna Mastrodicasa, associate director of the University of Florida Honors Program, and Tony Domenech, president of Homeport of Gainesville and a former city commissioner.
Chestnut's District 1 seat, which represents most of the city's east side, is a contest between Scherwin Henry, a biological researcher at UF, and Barbara Sharpe, a former Alachua County School Board member and the owner of two shops in the city.
Residents will also vote on a ballot referendum that would alter the Hogtown Greenway amendment to Gainesville's charter. The amendment, supported by a mix of recreational and environmental groups, is designed to ease restrictions on paving in many city parks to allow improvements and parking facilities to be built.
The small number of candidates running in the 2006 city elections is somewhat unusual for Gainesville, which typically sees a large pool of candidates for each of its nonpartisan races. According to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections' Web site, the 2001 mayoral race between Tom Bussing and Paula DeLaney was the last time there was an election season without at least one race in which three or more people were competing for a seat.
In both races, candidates have said economic development, particularly in east Gainesville, is their top issue. What differs, they said, is the strategies, skills and experience they would bring to the City Commission.
At large Domenech and Mastrodicasa differ in how they would handle economic development in Gainesville, basing their approaches on past experiences, philosophies and personalities.
Domenech, who lost a re-election for his southwest Gainesville seat last year to Commissioner Jack Donovan, has touted his status as a member of the dissenting minority during his time on the commission. In addition, he said he is the candidate most qualified to talk about economic development because of his experience founding several businesses in the city along with his wife, Lynn Domenech.
As a commissioner, Domenech regularly called for the commission to ease restrictions on development and businesses that he said have forced businesses to abandon the city. He has made one of these issues, his opposition to the narrowing of roadways that run through the core of Gainesville, a major theme in his campaign.
While Domenech has distanced his positions from those of his former colleagues, Mastrodicasa said her philosophy is similar to that of the commissioner she wants to replace. Both Mastrodicasa and Nielsen place a heavy emphasis on technology transfer from UF and education as a key to creating new, high-paying jobs in the city.
Despite not having experience as an elected official, Mastrodicasa said her work at UF has trained her to deal with bureaucracies and decision-making. Working with other governments and institutions in the city is key to the success of an economic development project, she said.
"The ideas are here, the people are here," Mastrodicasa said. "I think a lot of it is we haven't gotten the city and university together very well."
District 1 While both District 1 candidates said they are concerned with development throughout Gainesville, they said their passion was bringing businesses and development to the east side.
Henry said the key to developing east Gainesville is making it a focus of the commission and reversing a trend of neglect. "I feel like District 1 has been seen as the stepchild of the commission, and it's my goal to change that perception," Henry said.
Perceptions are key to improving east Gainesville, Henry said. Businesses will not come to east Gainesville unless there is positive neighborhood development in the area, he said. Henry said he has the experience necessary in these areas, and points out that he helped to establish the East Gainesville Development Corporation and has served on Gainesville's Citizen Advisory Committee for Community Development.
Businesses must be convinced to overcome concerns about the strength of the area's economy, Henry said, adding that studies show there is a greater market in east Gainesville than many think.
Sharpe said east Gainesville has suffered because it is viewed as less important than the western part of the city.
"For years the, quality has been compromised in east Gainesville," Sharpe said. "I don't think we can go on like that. We can't have a separation in the city. It's got to be all of us working together."
Sharpe said her 12 years on the Alachua County School Board and involvement in small businesses in the city give her a mix of skills necessary to bring growth to east Gainesville.
In order to attract businesses to Gainesville, the commission must work on reducing taxes and regulatory burdens that discourage investment in the community, Sharpe said. In addition to attracting outside businesses, the city also has to focus on encouraging the growth of local businesses, Sharpe said.
Jeff Adelson can be reached at 374-5095.

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