Candidates talk issues at forum
Election is Tuesday, but early voting continues through Saturday
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 3:47 p.m.
Candidates vying for the District 1 and At-Large seats on the Gainesville City Commission once again had a chance to discuss their platforms and views on issues pertinent to, but not limited to, the black community.
What: Gainesville city election and Florida Republican Presidential Primary.
When: Election is 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday; early voting is 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Vote at your precinct on Tuesday; vote early at the County Administration Building, 12 SE 1st St.; Millhopper Branch Library, 3145 NW 43rd St., and Tower Road Branch Library, 3020 SW 75th St.
Miscellaneous: Florida law requires voters present a photo and signature ID.
Information: Call 352-374-5252 or visit www.elections.alachua.fl.us.
The candidates participated in a debate last Thursday night sponsored by the Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus and held at the County Administration Building in downtown Gainesville.
And although the City Commission's 2009 deal to purchase biomass power was a major issue — as it has been throughout the campaign — the candidates also had a chance to offer their views on other issues.
The Gainesville City Election will take place from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday at city precincts, along with the Florida Republican Presidential Primary.
Early voting will continue this week from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at the County Administration Building, 12 SE 1st St.; Millhopper Branch Library, 3145 NW 43rd St., and Tower Road Branch Library, 3020 SW 75th St. Florida law requires voters to present a photo and signature ID. If needed, a run-off election will be held on Feb. 28.
The At-Large candidates were the first to answer questions from caucus Chairman Ermon Owens and former Chairman Charles Goston, who served as moderators. Seven of the eight candidates were present, with Richard Selwach not attending.
In addition to Selwach, the candidates are: Dejeon Cain, James Ingle, Donna Lutz, Darlene Pifalo, Lauren Poe, Nathan Skop and Mark Venzke.
One of the questions asked was what would the candidates do to ensure minority contractors get more contracts on city building projects. According to Cecil Howard, director of the city of Gainesville Office of Equal Opportunity, businesses owned by women and minorities each received just 1 percent of all spending done by the city in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
To increase those numbers, Cain said he would "make sure there is an even playing field." Lutz said she would also do what she could to get more minority contractors to be the lead on city projects because it would inspire young people and serve as an example that there are opportunities out there for them.
Poe, who represented District 2 on the commission before losing his re-election bid in April to Todd Chase, said there are "very different challenges to bringing equality to our city government," and he said the city could do more to recruit and invite more minority contractors to apply for jobs.
Venzke said the lack of equality is unacceptable and he would do whatever is necessary to solve the problem. Pifalo said color and gender shouldn't be an issue. "It should be about what you are qualified to do," she said.
Ingle said something has to be done to end the decades-long trend of the same companies getting contracts "over and over again."
Skop said it is time for all people to have the same opportunities and increasing the number of minority contractors who do business with the city is important.
The District 1 candidates were next and they only had about 40 minutes to exchange their views because the At-Large panel took up more than two hours. The candidates in that race are Armando Grundy, Yvonne Hinson-Rawls and Ray Washington.
The first question asked was about the candidates' stance on the biomass plant being built near the city's Deerhaven Generating Station at 10001 NW 13th St., which is estimated to increase electric bills by an estimated $10.56 a month for the average homeowner.
Some residents are upset that there is no back-out clause in the contract.
Hinson-Rawls said she supports the biomass plant because it is a good alternative power source. She said it is estimated it would cost $40 million to get out of the deal. Grundy said the biomass issue is a done deal because, "first and foremost," city commissioners voted unanimously for it.
Washington said the biomass plant is a bad idea and is going to cost residents more than any decision the commission has ever made, much more he said than the $40 million Hinson-Rawls said it would take to get out of the deal.
The candidates also were asked if they had strategic plans to bring jobs to east Gainesville. Grundy said some businesses don't have the money to "get through the permitting process," so he would work to make the permitting process easier. Hinson-Rawls said she would work to increase the skills of the labor force in east Gainesville because she said some jobs are available, but some east Gainesville residents are not qualified for them.
"We must have a skilled workforce first," she said.
Washington said he would work to help the city "deliver" the implementation of Plan East Gainesville, which is a blueprint for economic development in east Gainesville that has been around for at least 20 years.
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