City candidates talk of business incentives, Occupy Gainesville
Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 11:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 11:01 p.m.
Candidates seeking two open seats on the Gainesville City Commission were asked about Occupy Wall Street, local business incentives and the best rock show they had ever attended at a forum hosted by progressive groups Wednesday night.
Candidate debate Thursday
What: Gainesville City Commission candidate debate, hosted by the Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus
When: 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: County Administration Building, 12 SE First St.
With early voting starting Saturday, the candidates for the At-large 1 and District 1 seats are hoping to win over undecided voters, but not everyone gave the hosts -- the alternative newspapers The Gainesville Iguana and The Fine Print as well as the Indiegainesville blog -- the answers they might have liked.
Asked how they would deal with Occupy Gainesville members, who were celebrating their 99th day of having a presence on the Bo Diddley Community Plaza, if elected, at-large candidates Darlene Pifalo and Donna Lutz said they didn't understand the anger toward businesses as opposed to, as Lutz said, millionaire athletes and entertainers.
Pifalo hinted that Occupy members should go find work and said, “If it wasn't for the big businesses, we wouldn't be playing on our iPads and our iPhones and everything else.”
Former District 2 Commissioner Lauren Poe, also running for the at-large seat after losing his re-election bid last year, said the Occupy movement was sparked because of a sense that “there are a few that have taken way more than their share.”
While he said the middle class is disappearing, the “way to prosperity” is “reinvesting significantly in education,” he said, noting that is largely out of the commission's purview.
In terms of local activists, who have been lobbying commissioners to be able to stay on the plaza 24/7, Poe said he wouldn't treat them any differently than any other group.
“They get no more or no fewer rights as every other citizen, and if they want to address the commission and work with us as a group, they are more than welcome to,” he said.
Nathan Skop, a former Florida utility commissioner, used the question to criticize the commission, and to criticize Poe, saying while the Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech, the commission “likes to censor comments that are not to its liking.”
Skop cited as examples the recent trespass warnings given to people protesting the biomass deal at Gainesville Regional Utilities' headquarters on Southeast Fourth Avenue as well as restrictions on public comment at meetings like a rule that speakers must sign up by 6 p.m. to speak during a general-comment period at the start of the evening sessions.
A biomass opponent, Skop said the commission displays an “elitist attitude,” and “that's why my opponent was voted out of office.”
Dejeon Cain said commissioners should make more of an effort to communicate with protesters.
“Sometimes you've got to reach your hand out and help your brother if you see him in trouble,” Cain said.
James Ingle said the group of protesters aren't upset because they don't have jobs -- most work 40 hours a week, he said -- but because of economic disparity in this country.
“These are people that are upset because there is a fundamentally unfair system that we are in, in which people that are well-connected do much better than your average, everyday citizen. That's what they're upset about,” Ingle said. “You can see it at a national level, you can see it at a state level, you can see it at the city level -- that well-connected people hold an undue amount of influence.”
Speaking to the notion that Gainesville isn't friendly to the business sector, Ingle said, “Gainesville is pretty business-friendly if your last name is Collier or your last name is McGurn,” referring to Nathan Collier, a Skop supporter who owns several apartment complexes in the city, and Ken McGurn, a developer whose wife is backing Poe.
Fellow at-large candidates Richard Selwach and Mark Venzke did not attend.
In the race for District 1, which is largely made up of east Gainesville, all three candidates showed.
Asked about the city's incentives for small and large businesses, Yvonne Hinson-Rawls said the city needed to tweak its program that helps small business expand, lowering the threshold for how much it would need to expand to get assistance.
She also said the city should start a small business assistance center on the currently vacant ground floor of the new Community Redevelopment Agency building on Northwest Fifth Avenue.
Armando Grundy said small and large businesses should be treated equally by the city but wished there were more small businesses investing in east Gainesville, “one of the most economically impoverished areas” in the city.
Grundy said the city, through the Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center incubator, and the CRA should make more investments in that area to spark more business.
Ray Washington said there shouldn't be incentives for big businesses to come to Gainesville, and if there are, the commission, not city staff, should have to vote on them.
“It isn't fair for the Chamber of Commerce to seek out large businesses to come in and effectively compete with small businesses,” Washington said.
As for their favorite concerts, a question that was asked because of the local music scene's reputation, the candidates offered eclectic answers: Cain -- a gospel singer he performed with at his church; Grundy -- Michael Jackson and other Jackson siblings in Jacksonville; Hinson-Rawls -- Beyonce in New Orleans, though she didn't expect to like it; Ingle -- his wife, Trisha, who was playing a solo set at Lillian's Music Store downtown before they were married, and Tom Waits; Lutz -- Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic and the Rolling Stones in Gainesville; Pifalo -- Frank Sinatra; Poe -- Allman Brothers in Jacksonville and Neil Young; Skop -- Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart in Seattle; Washington -- Bruce Springsteen in the final concert at Giants Stadium.