Gainesville city election is Tuesday


Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 2:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 2:54 p.m.

City of Gainesville voters will elect the mayor and a District 4 city commissioner when they go to the polls Tuesday.

Facts

CITY ELECTION

What: Election for Gainesville mayor and District 4 City Commission.
When: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: Voting precincts in Gainesville only.
Miscellaneous: Early voting continues from 9 a.m-5 p.m. through Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday at the Alachua County Administration Building.
Information: Call 352-374-5252; www.votealachua.com.

Registered voters will be able to cast their ballots at their designated precincts in Gainesville only from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday or take advantage of early voting from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. through Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday at the Alachua County Administration Building at 12 SE 1st St. Pam Carpenter, Alachua County supervisor of elections, said all registered voters will be able to vote for mayor, but only voters who reside in District 4 will be able to vote for city commissioner.

District 4 is comprised of the area between SW 13th and 34th streets, SW Williston Road and W. University Avenue, a small part of northwest Gainesville and a portion of east Gainesville bounded by E. University and NE 16th avenues and N. Main Street and NE Waldo Road.

In addition to those races, a referendum to change Gainesville's election schedule also is on the ballot. Voters will decide if the city charter should be changed to move elections to the fall during odd years, with the regular election in October and a run-off in November. Terms on the commission would be extended from three to four years. If approved, a phased transition would begin in 2014, with fall elections and four-year terms eventually coming in 2017.

Carpenter said city elections have historically drawn 15 percent to 20 percent of voters, but she said there might be an increase in this election because of the number of candidates in the mayoral race and the proposed change to the city charter.

"We typically see an increase in turnout when there are a lot of candidates in a race because each candidate has their own supporters that go to the polls and vote for them," said Carpenter.

Both races offer candidates with a different vision for the future of the city and both races have candidates who have served on the commission in the past and relative newcomers to the city's political scene.

The candidates in the District 4 race are Alfredo Espinosa, former commissioner W.E. "Mac" McEachern and incumbent Randy Wells. The candidates for mayor are former commissioners Ed Braddy and Scherwin Henry, Pete Johnson, incumbent Craig Lowe, Donald Shepherd Sr. and Mark Venzke.

District 4

Espinosa, 20, is a University of Florida student whose top three campaign pledges are to make Gainesville more safe, affordable and business-friendly. He moved to Florida from Venezuela with his family when he was a child to chase the "American Dream."

He has pledged to work hard to encourage Gainesville Regional Utilities to find ways to reduce utility costs for its customers. He also wants to increase access to public transportation for all Gainesville residents.

He said he will fight for bars to start having soft closings, meaning they will stop selling alcohol at 2 a.m., but be allowed to stay open to serve food and nonalcoholic beverages.

McEachern, 81, who served two terms on the commission from 1981-1987 and is a U.S. Air Force veteran, has been very vociferous about his demands that GRU return approximately $20 million of fuel adjustment fees back to its customers.

"The fuel adjustment money is money that belongs to the ratepayers," said McEachern during a candidates debate in February sponsored by the Democratic Black Caucus of Alachua County. "GRU is carrying it as a liability, though they call it a temporary liability."

McEachern also has said he wants to see better headways in east Gainesville on city bus routes and has pledged to work hard to terminate the 30-year biomass contract the city signed to buy energy from the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center.

Wells, 45, is ending his first term representing District 4. If elected to a second term, he said he will work hard to see more investment in the local economy and neighborhoods.

His top three campaign issues center around transforming the former Gainesville Correctional Institute into a thriving community resource center with job training and other programs to assist the homeless and other underserved segments of the community, working to build a consensus in the community for long-term transportation funding and finding additional opportunities to promote the local business economy.

He has received endorsements from The Gainesville Iguana and the African American Accountability Alliance.

Gainesville mayor

Braddy, 41, who served on the city commission from 2002-2008, said his top two priorities will be to bring fiscal responsibility to city government and to ensure the city is providing cost-effective services.

"We have made some reckless policy decisions that are going to cost taxpayers, especially GRU customers, a lot more money than they can afford," said Braddy, who has worked at Santa Fe College since 1998, serving as the college's testing coordinator for the past six years.

He said one of his major proposals would be to designate three out of every four new transportation dollars to make bus routes in east Gainesville run more frequently.

"The goal should be to get headways down to 10 minutes," he said. "We are nowhere near that now. We have to first get down to 30 minutes, then to 20 minutes before we can get to 10 minutes."

Braddy has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police Gator Lodge #67 and the Gainesville/Alachua County Association of Realtors.

Henry, 60, served on the commission representing District 1 from 2006-2012. His top three priorities will be restoring accountability, confidence and trust between local government and residents; working to change policies that hinder business development, growth and the recruitment of businesses that pay a living wage and working to make public transportation accessible to all residents. Henry has been endorsed by the 4As.

"People, especially those in east Gainesville, have to wait too long for buses to take them to work and to shop and to school at Santa Fe College and the University of Florida," he said.

Johnson, 59, served on the Gainesville Alachua County Regional Airport Authority from 2004-2009, including a stint as chair from 2004-2009. Johnson, an entrepreneur, said his top three campaign issues are the concerns people have concerning the impact the biomass plant will have on utility bills, maintaining and improving roads and access to public records at City Hall.

He said former City Attorney Marion Radson pushed through a local ordinance in 2010 that makes it harder than it should for people to get public records from the city. He said more people are trying to get access to information nowadays because news organizations don't have the resources to investigate issues like they did in the past.

"A lot of individuals are trying to get information on their own and find it frustrating that they don't have more ‘Sunshine' in city government," said Johnson.

Lowe, 55, is seeking his second term as mayor and has stood strong defending his record on the campaign trail.

He has said his second term will be driven by building on the success of Innovation Square, a business development incubator on the property that used to house Alachua General Hospital; finding places in Gainesville to house the businesses started at Innovation Square, while promoting Gainesville as a business-friendly city with an educated workforce and a great quality of life.

He has been endorsed by the Suwannee/St. Johns Sierra Club, North Central Florida Central Labor Council, Equality Florida Action PAC, Gainesville Iguana and the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida.

Shepherd, 58, a former University of Florida worker in the Physical Plant Division, said his top three issues will be lowering utility rates, dealing with homelessness and improving roads.

Shepherd said he is in the race because he is dissatisfied with the job done by Lowe and the entire City Commission.

"We need to clean house and put people in there who are going to actually work for the people," said Shepherd, adding that he is a "people's representative," and if he gets elected, he's "going to look at who is doing their jobs and who is not" in all city departments.

Venzke, 55, an unemployed entrepreneur working to start an electric cab company that will use electric-powered cars, wrote in an email that the three major issues at stake in this election include the level of democracy in city government, safe drinking water and the safety and health of residents living in the Stephen Foster neighborhood near the Cabot-Koppers Superfund site on NW 23rd Avenue. The site and parts of the neighboring area contains groundwater contamination from past charcoal, pine oil and pine tar production.

Venzke wrote that his top three priorities will be to establish a forward-looking and responsible energy police, re-establish open and responsive government and to empower socially and economically disengaged residents by revitalizing struggling neighborhoods through public/private partnerships.

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