Braddy unseats Lowe by comfortable margin

Ed Braddy speaks to the crowd at his victory party at the Warehouse after being elected mayor on Tuesday in Gainesville. Braddy defeated incumbent Craig Lowe 7,258 votes (55 percent) to 6,007 (45 percent).

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 7:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 10:48 p.m.

The dynamic of the City Commission has officially been shaken up.

On Tuesday, former two-term City Commissioner Ed Braddy unseated incumbent Mayor Craig Lowe by a comfortable margin.

Come May, the City Commission will have a new leader who opposes the current commission majority's direction on the biomass contract, on transportation issues and on economic development.

In a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of more than two to one, the Republican Braddy defeated the Democrat Lowe by almost 10 percent of the vote. With all 35 precincts reporting, Braddy had 7,258 votes (55 percent) to Lowe's 6,007 (45 percent).

Braddy will be sworn in as mayor at noon on May 23. The site of the ceremony has not been announced.

Braddy attributed his victory to a campaign message of making the city affordable to residents and businesses. He also attributed victory to a network of supporters from across party lines.

"Our campaign, the entire thing, was the building of a coalition where people of many diverse backgrounds could come together with a common cause," Braddy said. "I intend to lead the same way. The burden is on the other commissioners who have already publicly declared that they are not open to other points of view. It seems to me what the people of Gainesville have said very firmly is that on these difficult issues we have, they want multiple viewpoints brought to bear so that we can actually do the work of the people."

Lowe did not comment as he left his campaign headquarters downtown and could not be reached for comment later in the evening. Shortly after the final results came in, he did call Braddy and offer him congratulations.

For Lowe, the runoff campaign included a DUI arrest and a resulting controversy. Two days after he advanced to face Braddy in the runoff, Lowe was arrested in the early morning hours of March 21 on a charge of driving under the influence.

While Lowe apologized in statements issued by his campaign, he did not answer questions about the arrest. Lowe entered a deferred prosecution agreement and a DUI Intervention Program available to first-time offenders who have no significant prior criminal or traffic history.

Lowe, a former two-term city commissioner before his 42-vote victory in the 2010 mayor's race, released a statement Tuesday night thanking his supporters and congratulating Braddy.

"While we disagreed on many of the issues confronting our city during this election, I hope that we will maintain an open line of communication as he assumes his duties as Mayor and look forward to a city government that continues to take all viewpoints into account."

While campaigning, Braddy said that differing or contrary viewpoints were not welcome under Lowe's leadership. He said the city should do away with more restrictive rules on public comment at City Commission meetings, including the requirement to sign up in advance to speak at the 6 p.m. time for general comment.

"City Hall is open to the people," Braddy told a cheering group of supporters at The Warehouse restaurant. "The people will be welcomed at City Hall."

As he spoke, a chant of "Braddy! Braddy!" rose up from the crowd.

Stepping away from the party, Stafford Jones, the chairman of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee, said the election results were not as much a shift to the conservative as a message that voters want a more responsive City Commission on issues such as utility rates and road repair.

"I think the citizens of Gainesville in general have gotten fed up with what they see as arrogance and not listening and it's showing," Jones said. "I think it's about a willingness to listen and not act as if your political ideology is a biblical text."

In Gainesville's weak mayor system, the mayor is one of seven votes on setting policy. City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said the election result was not a mandate from voters for the commission majority to change its goals.

"I think that the City Commission has a lot of important work to do to make Gainesville a better city and I didn't hear Mr Braddy talk about those things in a positive light during the campaign," Hawkins said.

Hawkins said those issues include long-term plans to develop a bus rapid transit system, a long-term investment in the development of the parks system and the management of the city utility.

During his campaigning, Braddy said bus rapid transit, the city's long-term parks master plan and the biomass contract were expensive endeavors that threatened the city's affordability.

On Tuesday night, he said he planned to focus on making it easier for small business to navigate the city's regulatory process, fixing aging infrastructure and remedying infrastructure inequities in different parts of the city.

Turnout Tuesday was just more than 16 percent.

Leaving the precinct at the Elks Lodge late Tuesday afternoon, resident Micheal Chatman said he generally felt the city was headed in the right direction but supported Braddy over transportation issues. Chatman said he shared the opposition to bus rapid transit and the feeling that the city should pump more money into road repairs.

Braddy easily carried the western more suburban areas of the city, drawing almost 65 percent of the votes cast in District 2, his former district as a city commissioner.

Lowe easily carried District 4, which he represented as a two-term commissioner, and he also carried District 1, which includes east Gainesville.

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