Lowe, Braddy offer vastly different approaches to mayor's office


Ed Braddy, right, former city commissioner, and Craig Lowe, left, incumbent Gainesville mayor, during the Gainesville Mayor Candidate Forum held at the retirement community Oak Hammock in Gainesville Tuesday.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 6:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 6:40 p.m.

As Gainesville's mayoral race heads into its final days, incumbent Craig Lowe and challenger Ed Braddy have defined starkly contrasting positions on issues such as transportation, energy policy and local government's role in economic development.

Yet, whoever is elected Tuesday will have a limited role in directing those things or even in the operation of city government. The mayor is one of seven votes on the City Commission, with no more decision-making power than any other member. Under Gainesville's weak mayor system, the city manager and the general manager of Gainesville Regional Utilities will run the day-to-day operations of city government.

The mayor has the bully pulpit to express his ideas, run meetings and represent the city in a variety of ways, so the power of the office — which pays $40,436 per year, almost 30 percent more than the $31,771 for commissioners — depends significantly on the personal style of the person who holds it.

Former commissioners who served with Braddy, including those who support and oppose him, describe him as a smart, skilled, quick-witted public speaker.

Tony Domenech, a former ally on the commission, said Braddy genuinely enjoyed the job, including the conflict.

"Regardless of what was happening, he had fun," Domenech said.

He said the two fought battles against the other commissioners — some winning and some losing — to put more money toward road repair and to undo Comprehensive Plan policies they felt were designed to restrict the use of automobiles.

Former Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa said Braddy could be funny and sometimes snarky at the dais.

"He's a good speaker," she said "He's passionate. He can get a room fired up."

On the other hand, insiders describe Lowe as more deliberate in his approach to issues and the legislation he wanted to get through the commission, but not as engaging as a speaker.

"Craig is not a sound bite kind of guy," Mastrodicasa said. "He's more interested in trying to get his legislation to happen, and he's not going to bring it forward unless he thinks he can get it to pass."

Domenech said he clashed frequently with Lowe. He said he felt Lowe and other members of the commission majority at that time were determined to "not give the other side anything at all."

"He operated from an obstructionist perspective if you were on the other side," Domenech said.

Commissioner Thomas Hawkins, a Lowe supporter, said Lowe is effective in communicating with staff and moving the commission's goals. Lowe, he said, "understands the investments and policies the city has to make for long-term economic development."

Jeff McAdams, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, recalled how the union endorsed the incumbent opponent during Braddy's first run for office in 2002. Braddy contacted the union after his victory, said McAdams, a longtime friend and political ally.

"He reached out to us," McAdams said. "It was unprecedented in our opinion because how often does the opponent who you didn't endorse reach out if he wins."

McAdams said Braddy lobbied the other commissioners consistently to make public safety a city priority.

"He didn't always win, but he was always there to fight," McAdams said.

Views on the role of mayor

Lowe, 55, was a two-term commissioner before his 2010 election as mayor. Braddy also served two terms on the commission. The two men differ on local government priorities and their approach to the job of mayor.

Lowe supports broad government investment in land conservation, renewable energy sources, the development of a bus rapid transit system, tax incentives to attract businesses, a parks master plan and the city's Community Redevelopment Areas, saying these will have long-term benefits.

Braddy, 41, advocates for smaller government. Local government has a role in providing services, he says, but the primary focus should be on the affordability of taxes, fees and utility rates and spending in areas such as public safety and basic infrastructure.

Lowe, who previously worked as a biological scientist and lab manager for the University of Florida Departments of Forestry and Botany and a computer programmer for the Florida Center for Library Automation, treats the office as a full-time job.

"That is the way I approached it because I feel the demands of the city require it," Lowe said. "I just felt the workload calls for it, and the people deserve it."

After his 2010 election, Lowe asked for and received unprecedented staff assistance for a Gainesville mayor.

The clerk of the commission, at Lowe's request and with his input, established a position for a mayoral policy aide and hired Lowe's former campaign manager.

With input from the City Attorney's Office and the Human Resources Department, the job was established as a temporary permanent position, which meant it could be filled through a non-competitive hiring process.

The moved stirred opposition. While in office in 2010, former Commissioner Jack Donovan, who supports Lowe in the current runoff, criticized the move and the hiring process.

Providing the mayor with a policy assistant when each commissioner's vote carries the same weight "skewed the distribution of power," Donovan said.

When other candidates raised the hiring on the campaign trail this year, Lowe said they were grasping to find issues because of the economic successes in the city.

"When you focus on issues like this, you've got nothing," Lowe said in an interview after a March forum.

Braddy does not feel the duties of mayor rise to the level of a full-time job.

He has worked since the late 1990s at Santa Fe College, where he currently is a testing administrator, and plans to retain that job.

"I believe strongly that our charter has established that the (city) manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations of city government," Braddy said. "The commission, with the mayor as leader, sets policy and lets the manager and staff implement it. I don't see the need for me to be there every day looking over people's shoulders."

If elected, Braddy would be one of two Republicans on a seven-member commission. More often than not, he could find himself as the most visible face of the city on policies he opposes.

"My view is I'm going to stay in my lane as mayor," Braddy said. "Let the will of the majority prevail but protect the rights of the minority. Whether or not I'm on the winning end of the vote, I've done my job if each commissioner has had a chance to weigh in on an issue."

But he also said that, if he wins, it sends a message to the commission majority.

"If I am elected, it shows that the people of Gainesville want a broad range of thought into these very difficult issues, so let's have some buy-in there," he said.

Foundations of their priorities

Each man's personal and educational background has helped shape his political priorities.

Braddy has a graduate degree in American history from James Madison University and aspires to one day write a history book "people would pay to read."

A passion for the study of history is at the core of his belief that the country was founded on the principles of individual liberty and limited government, he said.

"It is tough to reconcile the concept of individual liberty with any institution that continues to grow and grow and grow."

After he hit term limits in 2008, Braddy became executive director of the American Dream Coalition, a nonprofit organization critical of government smart growth policies.

He was drawn to the group over his opposition with Gainesville's Comprehensive Plan, which he felt promoted congestion to push people out of their cars and tried to force dense mixed-use development on the community.

"I became acutely aware that these plans don't reflect popular opinion and how people want to live, which is in single-family detached homes in the suburbs or at least a lower-density environment," Braddy said.

Lowe gained national attention in 2010 for his election as an openly gay mayor.

Looking back, he said that was not an accomplishment for him but for the city of Gainesville.

"I think it does say something about our community and our standards," he said. "It's a milestone toward equality when a community elects a member of a group that has faced a pattern of discrimination in the past."

During his first year in office as mayor, Gainesville became the subject of negative international attention as members of the Dove World Outreach Center threatened to burn copies the Muslim holy book the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. During his mayoral campaign that year, Dove World members posted a sign reading "No Homo Mayor" on their property. When media from across the world focused on Gainesville, they sought out Lowe and local clergy members to say that Dove World's actions were not a reflection of what the community was about.

"I think it's helpful that I had the background in fighting discrimination and prejudice to be a spokesman for the city at that time," he said.

As a commissioner, Lowe was the driving force behind legislation to expand the city's anti-discrimination ordinance to cover gender identity. When it passed 4-3 in January 2008, Braddy was among the commissioners in opposition.

The next year, a voter referendum drive sought to scale back the city's law to match state law, removing protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Lowe formed a political action committee, Equality Is Gainesville's Business, to fight the referendum.

Braddy supported the initiative. In a guest editorial in The Sun, he raised public safety issues saying the law "created dangerous loopholes" that allowed men to legally enter women's restrooms.

Eventually, the referendum failed with more than 58 percent opposition.

Braddy said, at this point in time, the ordinance is a non-issue.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's settled. It's in the books, and people seem content with it," he said. "At the time, I didn't see it as a local municipal issue."

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