Braddy looks ahead to his time as mayor


Mayor-elect Ed Braddy talks about his vision for the future of Gainesville during an interview at Coffee Culture on Friday, April 19, 2013.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 6:13 p.m.

The TV ad summed up Ed Braddy's campaign message of back-to-the-basics government.

Braddy waits in a local coffee shop behind a customer ordering a drink with a slew of flavors. Then, he steps to the counter and orders a black coffee.

On Friday, Braddy sat outside that same coffee shop, drinking a black coffee in blue jeans and a polo-style shirt.

Three days earlier, he had unseated incumbent Craig Lowe by a margin of almost 10 percent of the vote in the runoff for Gainesville mayor.

With the campaign over, Braddy the candidate has started the transition to Mayor Braddy — with a swearing-in ceremony coming in late May.

For Braddy as mayor, the work that lies ahead includes trying to see through campaign pledges while serving alongside a City Commission majority he has criticized and opposed as a conservative political talk radio host and as a candidate on a variety of policy issues including biomass, transportation and economic development.

Drinking his black coffee, Braddy said his campaign message was authentic and that he plans to raise concerns about the affordability of the city's electric rates, taxes and fees and the regulatory obstacles he feels small businesses face in Gainesville.

But he also knows he is one of seven on the City Commission and the public votes each commissioner into office to bring their own priorities and ideas to City Hall.

As mayor, it's his duty to see that each commissioner has a say and an opportunity to shape policy, Braddy said.

“I think there are a lot of people in the community who are bent on convincing people I'm some wild-eyed ideologue who can't get along with anybody,” he said. “I think they're going to be sadly disappointed over the next three years. But the greater electorate will be very well-served.”

Over the next month, Braddy said he plans to give Lowe space to finish his time in office on his own terms.

He also has started the transition to mayor and the work of balancing those responsibilities with his full-time job.

On Wednesday, the day after his election, Braddy was back on the Santa Fe College campus, where he works as a testing administrator. That evening, he joined Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones and code enforcement staff for a monthly neighborhood walk event — this one in the Lincoln Estates neighborhood.

For Braddy, it's an extension of his campaign to get out into the neighborhoods and listen to residents' concerns.

Thursday night, he made a brief appearance at the City Commission meeting.

During the oft-contentious time for public comment, Braddy was the first speaker to approach the podium. He thanked Lowe for his gracious concession call two nights earlier and his pledge to assist with the transition.

Five of the six commissioners with whom Braddy will serve — all except Todd Chase — supported Lowe in the campaign. To those five commissioners, Braddy said all points of view on the commission deserve consideration.

“The electorate have put all of you there for a reason, and that is to do the people's business,” Braddy said. “And by that, I mean no viewpoint is illegitimate on the dais and each elected official has the expectation that is established by the electorate to contribute toward the solution. As the incoming mayor, that is my pledge to all of you to make sure on all the issues, no matter how challenging, that everyone has the opportunity to participate in the discussion. No viewpoint will be ruled illegitimate. No effort will be made to suppress any one viewpoint. All I can ask is that you give me the same courtesy.”

Of course, it remains to be seen how well Braddy and the commission majority get along. No current members of the commission were in office when Braddy served as the District 2 commissioner from 2002 to 2008.

Commissioner Randy Wells said Braddy's comments Thursday night set a positive tone.

“His words yesterday, which very much honored that all of us were elected to do the people's business, I thought were a very good step in the transition,” Wells said Friday.

As mayor, Braddy will be one of seven votes on policy decisions. He will run meetings and serve as the ceremonial leader of the city and its ambassador.

Commissioner Lauren Poe said Braddy would be the third mayor with whom he's served and that he was “intrigued” to see how Braddy's style would compare.

As far as the overall complexion of the commission, Poe said the shift was not significant.

“Not so much has changed except there is a new member of the commission who will have his own priorities and goals, and it is incumbent on the other six of us to work together and try to build consensus.”

Asked if Braddy's election showed that voters wanted to move away from current commission policy on issues such as bus rapid transit or the handling of a legal dispute over the biomass contract, Poe said he could not speculate.

“People vote for certain candidates for a wide variety of reasons, and it is difficult to divine from tea leaves what those reasons are,” he said.

Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls said she is not optimistic that she and Braddy will agree on much.

“From what I've heard, he's pretty strong with his ideology, and I can be pretty strong with mine,” she said. “So we'll have to see if we can find common ground.”

Braddy said that early in his term, he plans to raise the issues that were the focus of his campaign. Those include assisting small businesses with the permitting and regulatory process, bus service in east Gainesville and the affordability of electric rates with the biomass plant scheduled to come online later this year.

Campaigning, he said the city should seek to exit the biomass contract over the city's claim that two sales of a combined 57 percent stake in the plant represented a change in controlling interest that should have triggered the city's contractual right to make an offer.

The City Commission instead has made a demand for arbitration over the claim. Braddy acknowledges that there is disagreement over whether there are legal grounds to take the more hardline stance he advocates.

“It's an issue,” he said. “I think all of the commissioners are aware of my position on it. I would not be fulfilling the pledge made during the campaign if I did not bring it up. Again, what I am hoping for is that we find a common language around affordability.

“They may not say, ‘Let's do it Ed Braddy's way.' But they could say, ‘We do know a lot of people in the community are concerned about this. Let's start discussing this. Let's start talking about what our options are here,' ” Braddy continued. “That's all I can ask, that no one idea gets snuffed out at its inception.”

On other campaign issues, Braddy said he expects the commission to reach consensus. He said he sees improving bus service in east Gainesville as “low-hanging fruit” that commissioners could address in summer budget hearings.

On the campaign trail, Braddy also pledged to loosen restrictions on public comment and to do away with a requirement to sign up in advance in order to speak during the 6 p.m. time for general comment.

Lowe was subject to sometimes withering criticism during public comment. Braddy said that, being politically right of center as Gainesville's mayor, he expects to face critics of his own.

“I've got thick skin,” he said. “I'm not naive. I expect to hear the worst about me brought up again and again.”

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