Shorter campaign season forces rush


Published: Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

A shortened Gainesville City Commission campaign season means candidates are having to hustle hard for votes, and also for donations to help earn those votes.

Just weeks before the Jan. 29 election, several candidates have not hit the $10,000 mark and several said they will be having more fundraising events to collect cash to finish out the campaign.

Gainesville elections are typically held in March. During presidential election years, they coincide with the preference primary. The state Legislature set Jan. 29 as the presidential preference primary this year, earlier than usual, in an attempt to give Florida a greater role in selecting party nominees.

"The timing has been absolutely horrendous. I like the increased turnout that we are going to have, but the reality is people have been distracted with Thanksgiving, Christmas and the additional fact that they are used to March (elections)," said District 2 candidate Bryan Harman. "I'm doing a door-to-door effort. Now I'm basically funding for mailouts, which will reinforce my walking effort."

Harman, a Republican, has collected $7,183.

The donation leader is District 2 candidate Bonnie Mott, also a Republican, with $13,505. The lone Democrat in the District 2 race, Lauren Poe, has $9,768.

Next is District 3 incumbent Jack Donovan, a Democrat, at $13,045. His two opponents are at the bottom of the list - Libertarian Christopher Salazar with zero contributions and Republican Armando Grundy with $1,600.

In the at-large race, Republican Robert Agrusa has $3,204 in contributions while Democrat Thomas Hawkins Jr. has $11,998.

Several candidates and the chairmen of the county Democratic and Republican executive committees said the January voting date has put a dent in fundraising and campaigning.

"Usually there is much more of a lead time with the March elections," said Democratic chairman Jon Reiskind. "When you are buying a lot of gifts, you're not thinking about making political contributions."

Mott is a real estate agent and has a sizeable number of contributions from residents in the housing and development industries. Mott also kicked in $5,000 of her own money.

Getting into the race rather late, Mott said she had some catching up to do with fundraising and added that her list of contributors includes real estate agents, developers and mortgage brokers because they are her friends.

"I had talked about it with friends for several months and said, you know, I just need to do this. I've been here 40 years and I've worked in the real estate industry for 31 years, so I have a lot of friends," Mott said. "When I decided to run, I just starting calling them. I say, 'I'm going to run and I need your support.' "

The District 2 race is unusual in that it has two viable Republicans in Mott and Harman. Republicans are the minority party in Gainesville - 29,239 Democrats to 12,125 Republicans - and traditionally the GOP has tried to find one candidate per race to whom it could devote all its support.

A candidate who gets more than 50 percent of the vote wins. If no one gets that, the top two face each other in a runoff Feb. 19.

The District 2 seat is currently held by Republican Ed Braddy, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits.

Republican Party Chairman Stafford Jones said he would have preferred just one candidate in the race.

"I think there is just the thought by conservatives or Republicans that it is a seat that can be held onto, so that is why - I guess - two people thought they would try," Jones said. "To be honest with you, it would be my preference that there were not two Republicans in that one race, but it is what it is. People have a right to run."

Poe said he has gotten money from a lot of different supporters but in relatively small amounts.

Among his donors are former city commissioner Warren Nielsen and the North Central Florida Labor Council.

"I think we are going to have plenty to get my message out. I feel pretty good about it," Poe said. "We started the campaign early, last summer, because we knew we had to get out door-to-door because we wouldn't have a lot of money. We knew we were probably going to go up against people who did have a lot of money, and that's fine."

Donovan was first elected in 2005. In that contest he raised about $15,000 before the initial election and another $15,000 for the runoff. He defeated incumbent Tony Domenech, who had drawn about $50,000 in donations.

Neither of Donovan's opponents - Salazar or Grundy - is coming close to Donovan in donations, Donovan said, so he is not putting as much effort into fundraising as he otherwise would have.

"We started off raising quite a bit of money this time around and then no heavy hitters on the Republican side of the fence entered the race, so we thought the primary thing we should be doing is walking the neighborhoods. That's entirely what we have focused on," Donovan said. "We haven't focused on raising money that we really don't need to spend."

Donovan has the longest list of contributions at 204. Next is Poe with 138.

Agrusa and Hawkins said they believe they will have enough money to cover their needs but are still looking for more.

"This is the first time I've ever done anything like this, so when I started campaigning I looked back at previous campaigns. We've done less, but I think we've done well," Hawkins said. "Mailings are going to take the bulk of what we've raised so far, and what we've raised will be enough to cover that."

Agrusa has drawn a number of contributions from University of Florida students. He said it shows he is able to reach out to residents who haven't always been involved in local politics.

"The relationships and the type of campaign I have been able to establish has been a very successful one," Agrusa said. "It doesn't include reaching out only to those who are going to donate a lot of money, but rather going more grassroots. At the end of the day, it shows you're a harder working candidate."

At the tail end of the contribution list are Grundy and Salazar.

Grundy said that while he hasn't raised much money - of his $1,650 total, $1,500 of it is his own cash - he is a serious candidate.

"I didn't have really any expectations. I expect to pick up some after the holiday season," Grundy said. "I don't believe campaigns are just run on money. Money doesn't equate to votes. A lot of the candidates haven't raised a tremendous amount of money."

Salazar could not be reached for comment.

Contributions can be found at the Alachua County elections office Web site at http://elections.alachua.fl.us. Candidates also must file contribution reports on Jan. 11 and Jan. 25.

Cindy Swirko can be reached at 352-374-5024 or swirkoc@ gvillesun.com.

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