Vote Tuesday in run-off election

Only one candidate shows up for Black Caucus forum

Cynthia Moore Chestnut, right, who was representing candidate Helen K. Warren, and opposing candidate Annie Orlando.

ERICA BROUGH/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 3:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 3:41 p.m.

The Democratic Black Caucus of Alachua County wanted to personally hear from Annie Orlando and Helen Warren, the two candidates in the run-off election for the At-Large 2 seat on the Gainesville City Commission.

But the close to 50 people attending the debate last Thursday did not get a chance to hear from Warren, who missed the forum because she had to make a trip out of town.

Instead, seasoned local politician Cynthia Chestnut served as a surrogate for Warren, much to the displeasure of Charles Goston, past president of the caucus who served as the moderator, along with caucus president Ermon Owens.

Goston said although he was happy to see Chestnut, he was disappointed that Warren didn't call and inform the caucus that she would not be attending the debate.

"We had talked to Mrs. Warren on yesterday (last Wednesday) and she promised that she was going to be here," said Goston. "There was no communication between Mrs. Warren and the caucus that there were going to be any changes, and I feel I'm doing Mrs. Chestnut a disservice with the questions that we need to ask tonight, but I am going to ask them anyway."

Early voting in the race between Orlando and Warren will continue from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. through Saturday at the Supervisor of Elections Office at the Alachua County Administration Building at 12 SE 1st St. and the Millhopper Branch Library at 3145 NW 43rd St. The election will take place from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday at city voting precincts.

After making his feelings known about Warren not attending the debate, Goston asked Chestnut and Orlando how they felt about the Democratic Executive Committee of Alachua County, "who demonize people who don't sign a loyalty oath," he said, but who are still Democrats.

Goston was referring to the issue surrounding Orlando, who said she is a lifelong Democrat, for refusing to sign a loyalty oath with the DEC when she announced she was entering the race.

"What I think our friends on the DEC have forgotten is that when you run for office, and once you become elected, especially in a non-partisan race, you are supposed to represent everybody," said Orlando. "Not just your friends, not just one party and not just one group, and you have to be able and sit down and work with people from all sides."

Chestnut said she could not respond to the question because she had not discussed the issue with Warren, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in Gainesville.

The first question asked during the debate by Owens asked Chestnut and Orlando to rate the "communication level between the City Commission and the neighborhoods they represent."

Orlando said it was "pretty bad" because zoning changes and other changes are being made without business owners and residents impacted by those decisions becoming aware of them until after the decisions have been made.

Chestnut said she thought Warren would say communication has been good between the commission and neighborhoods, and she cited city job fairs that have been spearheaded by Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls.

She said nearly 1,500 people attended the first job fair organized by Hinson-Rawls a couple of years ago and she also cited city notifications provided to residents about community block grants, a federally funded program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs, and the fact that fliers are placed in GRU bills to inform customers about ways to lower utility bills.

Reading from a prepared statement during opening remarks, Chestnut quoted Warren, and said: "I made the choice to run for this position after watching the community come apart over energy production and the rising costs of our utility bills. Since taking this step and talking to people across the city, it is clear that there are other gaps in our community that need to be bridged."

Chestnut continued by saying Warren feels "the level of poverty in Gainesville is outstanding in a bad way."

During her opening remarks, Orlando, owner of Atlas Screen Printing in southeast Gainesville, said she has spent many years serving on civic and governmental advisory boards, committees and task forces. She said she was a founding member of the East Gainesville Development Task Force established in the 1990s to help spur economic development in east Gainesville. She said the task force, now known as the East Gainesville Development Corp., had a lot of support from the City Commission when it was established, support she said has declined over the years.

"We need to put commissioners back in office who understand the issues, who are part of the community and who are here for you and who will work for you on the City Commission."

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