Braddy, Lowe discuss DUI arrests, spar on issues
Published: Monday, April 1, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 1, 2013 at 11:06 p.m.
Seated side by side, Ed Braddy and Craig Lowe sparred for some two hours at the first forum since they advanced to the April 16 runoff for Gainesville mayor.
Monday evening's African American Accountability Alliance forum was also the first since the incumbent Lowe's March 19 arrest on charges of driving under the influence.
Serving as moderator, former city and county commissioner Rodney Long began with a question on the issue of character -- noting that both Braddy and Lowe have had a DUI arrest involving a vehicle crash while in office.
Braddy was arrested in January 2006 during his second term on the commission. He entered treatment and pleaded no contest. On Monday, Lowe entered a deferred prosecution agreement.
"All I can offer is how I responded to the situation," Braddy said.
He described his arrest as a "turning point" in his life and added that he "never made any excuses ... never passed the buck."
Lowe asked for forgiveness from his supporters and the community and said he hoped to "restore confidence and trust."
"I do apologize for the actions and the poor judgement I showed getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol," Lowe said. "I do greatly regret this decision and am willing to accept responsibility for it."
On city issues, Braddy and Lowe sparred over the economy, transportation and the biomass plant. The 4A's endorsed Lowe in the runoff.
Hitting on a common campaign theme, Lowe pointed to the economic gains of Innovation Square, Prioria Robotics' expansion and Silver Airways' move to Gainesville. He said those would bring direct jobs and have a "multiplier" effect that creates jobs outside the high-tech sector.
Braddy said Lowe was espousing a "trickle-down" approach to economic development.
"He wants Innovation Square to trickle down to the rest of us," he said.
Braddy said Lowe's focus was on a future vision for Gainesville that includes a bus rapid transit system, a downtown streetcar and the 30-year contract to purchase power from the biomass plant. Braddy said his focus was on making utility rates affordable now, fixing aging infrastructure in east Gainesville and improving transit service in that area of town.
Lowe countered that Braddy the mayoral candidate was now talking of the need to improve transit service and fix infrastructure in east Gainesville when those were not priorities for Braddy the city commissioner.
"As commissioner, Mr. Braddy never supported increasing funding" for bus service, Lowe said. He described Braddy as a "recent convert" to the idea.
Braddy said Lowe was distorting his voting record.
"This is where a desperate mayor shows his desperation by misleading you, the voters, and it's disgraceful," Braddy said.
On the campaign trail, Braddy has been critical of the biomass contract. He's called for the city to take a more hard-line stance on an ongoing claim of breach of contract against the biomass firm and attempt to exit the contract.
Monday, Lowe began reading comments from a 2008 meeting, when it was Braddy who made the motion to enter negotiations on the biomass plant. Lowe said that, as commissioners, they had "similar voting histories" on biomass.
Braddy countered that he was out of office in 2009 when the City Commission approved the contract to purchase power from the biomass plant.
"The threat to our affordability is in the contract," Braddy said.
The opponents also sparred over one hotly-debated step the city has taken to limit rate increases associated with the plant. Instead of lowering electric rates as natural gas prices declined, the city held the line and charged customers some 20 percent over actual fuel costs to build up a $23 million fund intended to cushion the spike in future fuel charges from the biomass plant.
"One person's overpayment is another person's financial strategy to mitigate long-term impact," Lowe said.
Braddy called for a rebate to customers.
"It's unethical," he said. "It's an overcharge. So by definition it should go back to the ratepayers."
Each candidate had an opportunity to pose questions to his opponent. Lowe asked Braddy how, "given his history on a right-wing talk show," he would work with Democratic members of Congress he'd criticized on air or the Obama administration.
Braddy, who co-hosted conservative radio show Talk of the Town, responded "better than you."
"I won't go up there and glad hand everybody like you, Mr. Mayor," he said.
Braddy asked Lowe what unique contribution he had made to fix the infrastructure in east Gainesville.
Lowe responded that the Eastside Community Redevelopment Agency was a mechanism to fund needed, long-ignored infrastructure improvements and Braddy, as a commissioner, had voted against an expansion of that CRA.
Braddy said he did so on "principle" because the consultant who performed the study on the CRA expansion said he'd always found the legally required blight conditions in 30 years of conducting studies.