City incumbents to face relative newcomers


Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 11:57 p.m.

This spring's Gainesville city elections will pit three challengers who are relatively new to the city's political scene against two incumbents.

The challengers, who will face Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan and City Commissioner Craig Lowe, have added a broad range of issues to races that some political observers had predicted would draw little attention.

"Well, it looks like it's going to be another exciting election series," Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter said Friday after officially declaring the qualifying period for candidates had ended. "We're looking forward to a good turnout from the citizens of Gainesville."

The candidates will face off in a March 6 nonpartisan election. If none of the candidates in the District 4 race win more than 50 percent of the vote, the race will be decided in a March 27 runoff between the two candidates with the most votes in the general election.

Early voting will start a week before each election.

Hanrahan, 40, faces Wesley Watson, a 50-year-old landlord, who said he's been thinking about running for office for more than 10 years.

He was inspired to jump into the mayoral race when it appeared Hanrahan would keep the seat without a contest.

"I just hate to see somebody run unopposed," Watson said.

Watson said he wants to take a common-sense approach to the city's problems and focus on reducing property taxes and city spending.

Though he lacks Hanrahan's three terms on the commission, Watson said he's encouraged by the success of other political newcomers, including Commissioner Ed Braddy, who represents his district.

"When he ran he was just a normal guy like me," he said. "That's what I am, I'm just a normal guy."

Hanrahan has focused her attention on a platform that involves increasing energy conservation, economic development and redevelopment and improving the graduation rates at high schools in Gainesville.

Hanrahan said she was prepared for the campaign.

"I enjoy running for office," Hanrahan said. "There are people who like to run and people who like to serve and people who like to do both and I really, truly like to do both."

The race for District 4, which represents downtown and part of southwest Gainesville, will pit three candidates against one another with each focusing on a different area of concern.

Richard Selwach, a 44-year-old pawn broker and landlord, said he was spurred to run by increases to the city fees paid by landlords that he said in some cases quadrupled the amount owed to the city.

In particular, Selwach said he was upset the commission had not notified landlords directly about the increase rather than only taking out the legally required newspaper advertisements.

"I cannot tolerate them not noticing me on items that affect my private property rights," Selwach said.

Francis "Pat" Fitzpatrick Jr. said he was glad all the incumbents were being challenged. Even if he loses the race, Fitzpatrick said he would still advance his cause.

"I'm in here to win but I'm also in here to frame the debate about what is important and that's the poor," he said. "This City Commission has a bourgeois mentality that caters mainly to the upper class and I'm going to fight for the common man."

Lowe has been relatively quiet about his campaign, mentioning his interest in talking about issues he has been dealing with during his current term.

These include environmental concerns and neighborhood protection.

"I'm looking forward to discussing these concerns over the course of the campaign and talking about the issues facing our city," he said.

CANDIDATE PROFILES: GAINESVILLE CITY COMMISSION

FRANCIS 'PAT'

FITZPATRICK JR.

AGE

57

JOB

Executive

director, Counseling and Education Associates (a tobacco cessation and

education

program)

HOME

Eastside Garden Apartments

FAMILY

Single. Two grown

children

RUNNING FOR

Gainesville City Commission, District 4

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE

Ran for City Commission at-large seat in 2002

RICHARD SELWACH

AGE

44

JOB

Pawn broker and landlord

FAMILY

Single

HOME

University Park

RUNNING FOR

Gainesville City Commission District 4

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE

None

PEGEEN HANRAHAN

AGE

40

JOB

Environmental engineer

HOME

University Park

FAMILY

Husband, Tony Malone; one daughter; second child due March 3

RUNNING FOR

Mayor

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE

Elected as city commissioner, 1996; re-elected, 1999; elected mayor of Gainesville, 2004

CRAIG LOWE

AGE

49

JOB

Gaines-

ville city commissioner

HOME

Northeast Neighbors

FAMILY

Single

RUNNING FOR

Gainesville City Commission District 4

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE

Elected as District 4 city commissioner, 2003; re-elected without opposition, 2004

WESLEY WATSON

AGE

50

JOB

Landlord

and retired Gainesville Regional Utilities fuel service employee

HOME

Foxfire Woods

FAMILY

Wife, Lu Anne

RUNNING FOR

Mayor of Gainesville

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE

None

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