Gold into lead


Published: Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2012 at 5:52 p.m.

If there was a “Golden Age” of Gainesville government, I'd say it lasted roughly from the mid-1980s into the early '90s.

It was an era in which many of the urban planning and smart growth policies that sparked Gainesville's evolution as an “Innovation City” were adopted by forward-looking commissioners like David Coffey, Tom McKnew, Jim Painter, Paula DeLaney, Court Collier, Rodney Long and others.

Oh, by the way, for a time during this era there were three Republicans — McKnew, Painter and DeLaney (who was GOP before she was a Dem) — and only two Democrats on the commission.

And guess what? Hardly anybody noticed.

“We had a sense of collegiality,” recalled Coffey, who as an incumbent avoided getting involved in the commission campaigns of others.

“I never supported a fellow commissioner's opponent, no matter our differences,” Paula DeLaney added. “We had a mutual respect.”

I only mention this because the partisan warfare being waged by some commissioners these days is unsettling, and somewhat unprecedented.

Reading the testy exchanges between commissioners Susan Bottcher (Dem.) and Todd Chase (Rep.) on our opinion pages this week, one senses that collegiality and mutual respect have left the building.

With commissioners thrusting themselves elbow-deep in the campaigns to fill two open seats, the partisan politics at City Hall has begun to resemble that in the D.C. Swamp.

And I hope it doesn't lead to an era of D.C.-style gridlock for Gainesville.

Because this city is entering a crucial period.

I've never known a time when all of the major players — UF, the city, the county, the business, arts, environmental communities and so on — seemed so closely aligned on a vision for Gainesville's future.

The last thing we need at this juncture are bickering commissioners plotting against each other and forever laying plans to solidify their partisan support come the next election.

Yes I know, there's no such thing as a non-partisan election, no matter what the city charter says. I've heard that a thousand times.

But, seriously, does anybody imagine the stench of partisanship that has so poisoned the atmosphere in Washington and Tallahassee is really good for our municipal government?

If commissioners had any respect for the letter and spirit of Gainesville's nonpartisan offices, they would decline to involve themselves in other candidates' races, regardless of party considerations.

I've watched a lot of city campaigns since coming to work for The Sun in 1976. And I don't remember an election in which incumbents were so heavily involved in picking the “winners.”

Politics ain't beanbag, I understand that. But if there ever was a “Golden Age” of city governance, we are not likely to see its revival anytime soon.

Because the chemistry of partisanship works a perverse sort of alchemy; it turns gold into lead.

Ron Cunningham is editorial page editor of The Sun. Contact him at voice@gvillesun.com or 374-5075. Read his blog, Under The Sun, at www.gainesville.com/opinion.

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