4As host forum, endorse city candidates


Moderator Diyonne McGraw, center, chair of the 4As PAC, welcomes the audience to the 4As candidate forum at the Alachua County Health Department.

BRAD McCLENNY/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 2:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 2:18 p.m.

Candidates in the Gainesville mayoral and City Commission District 4 races answered questions primarily about issues of concern to the black community and east Gainesville residents during a candidate forum hosted by the political action committee of the African American Accountability Alliance of Alachua County.

The election, which will be held for city of Gainesville residents only, will take place from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. March 19.

Held Monday evening at the Alachua County Health Department, candidates at the forum answered seven questions asked by moderator Diyonne McGraw, chair of the PAC, and several questions written on index cards by some of the nearly 70 people in attendance.

The candidates were asked about their views on Plan East Gainesville, a proposed hotel and conference center in downtown Gainesville, the Alachua County Fairgrounds as it relates to Plan East Gainesville, annexing parts of eastern Alachua County and other topics.

At the end of the three-hour forum, incumbent District 4 Commissioner Randy Wells and former District 1 Commissioner Scherwin Henry, a mayoral candidate, received endorsements from the group.

The others who participated in the forum included District 4 candidate W.E. "Mac" McEachern and mayoral candidates Ed Braddy, current Mayor Craig Lowe, Pete Johnson, Donald Shepherd Sr. and Mark Venzke.

Henry and Wells both welcomed their endorsements.

"It means to me that there are those that identify with my platform and with what I stand for, not only as a candidate, but as a person as well," said Henry. "I'm excited to have their support and I'm ready for the next step in this campaign."

Wells, who didn't receive an endorsement from the group when he first ran for his seat three years ago, said getting the endorsement this time means a lot to him.

"I think this is an endorsement for the work I've done, and I look forward to seeing how we can bring more investment to our community," Wells said.

Braddy, a former city commissioner, arrived at the forum after McGraw asked her questions, but in time for questions from the audience, which included a question for Lowe about the hiring of his former campaign manager as his assistant outside a competitive process. Braddy said the move was a disgraceful act by the mayor." However, Lowe said his actions were in line with the city's hiring regulations.

While answering the various questions from McGraw, all of the candidates shared their visions for improving the quality of life in east Gainesville.

Henry said the best thing about Plan East Gainesville, a long-standing document promoting economic development in the Waldo Road corridor, is that it was developed by east Gainesville residents. He said the plan encompasses housing, retail, transportation and mixed-use centers. He also said he will work hard to see the plan reach the implementation stage.

Johnson, a Gainesville business consultant, said he would like to see Plan East Gainesville implemented and believes a mentoring program for entrepreneurs would be a great way to spur more small businesses in east Gainesville.

Lowe said a big priority for him in terms of getting more economic development in east Gainesville is helping the Alachua County Commission find a new location for the fairgrounds so that the current fairgrounds off Northeast 39th Avenue can get the infrastructure renovations it needs to attract business development.

McEachern, a former city commissioner, said he will fight to reduce the $1 billion debt that Gainesville Regional Utilities currently has and work hard to get "$20 million GRU is hiding from the city."

Shepherd, a former employee at the Physical Plant Division at the University of Florida, said if elected, he will go to people in east Gainesville and ask them "what they need to make their lives better."

Wells said it is going to take teamwork by community stakeholders to find a solution that "reconciles our desires for economic investment, our belief in social justice for every citizen to have an opportunity and the opportunities that the environment in east Gainesville provide that is unlike any other part of our community."

Venzke said he would like to create combined job training facilities with business incubators.

"This is a good chemistry to have the two sides work together to meet the needs of one another," Venzke said.

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