Almost 50 candidates qualify for local races

Alachua County candidates
Nearly 50 candidates qualified to run for local offices by Friday's deadline. Pictured from left to right (top): Tina Certain, Gary Gordon, David Arreola, (bottom) Ed Book, Mildred Russell and Charlie Jackson.

With more than 12 local seats up for grabs, this week has seen a flurry of 46 candidates qualifying for the August 23 election.

Except for judicial races, the qualifying period for county and city races was this week. Although they could begin to file paperwork earlier, they had until noon on Friday to qualify officially for the fall’s elections.

The range of elected offices voters will have to make decisions about has grown as the non-partisan Gainesville mayoral and commission races, previously held in the spring, will be contested in August for the first time. 

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Other non-partisan races include four school board seats, which will appear on the August ballot, and five social and water conservation district board spots, which will appear on the November ballot. 

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) races are the only local ones to feature primaries, but only one of three races will be on the primary ballot in August.

Gainesville Mayor

Nine people, including two current commissioners, will vie for the office of Gainesville mayor. That’s more than twice the number of candidates that ran in 2019 when the office was last contested.

David Arreola, the city’s District 3 commissioner, and Harvey Ward, who represents District 2, are both term-limited in their current roles and have qualified to run for mayor. Current city Mayor Lauren Poe is also term-limited.

Gainesville Commissioner and mayoral candidate Harvey Ward (left) speaks at a June 2 meeting with Commissioner Reina Saco.

The former general manager of Gainesville Regional Utilities Ed Bielarski, who was terminated without cause by the city commission in January and promised to run for mayor the night he was fired, also will vie for the mayor’s position 

Gary Gordon, who is a former city commissioner and a former mayor-commissioner, is running for the position along with Gainesville LGBTQ activist July Thomas and Ansaun J. Fisher, the owner of the Florida All-Stars of the Women’s American Basketball Association. 

Two familiar candidates will once again appear on a Gainesville ballot. Gabriel Hillel, who has previously run for city offices under the name Gabe Kaimowitz, last ran in the fall’s special election to fill the at-large city commission seat vacated by Gail Johnson. Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut won a run-off against another candidate in January.

Donald Shepherd Sr., who calls himself the “people’s representative” when he speaks at city commission meetings, ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2013 and 2016. He has been barred from city hall in recent months after shoving and threatening Arreola, who did not press criminal charges.

Adam Rosenthal, who lists his main source of income as Fracture, Inc., was one of the final filers in the mayor’s race, rounding out the field of nine.

Gainesville City Commission

In addition to the mayor’s position, three city commission seats will be up for election in August. Because Ward, Arreola and District 4 Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos are all term-limited, the voters will choose from a slate of candidates that have not held a commission seat before.

In District 2, James Ingle, an electrician and the president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 1205, was initially the lone candidate for the seat, but redistricting brought in three additional opponents.

In August, Ingle will face Ed Book, the Santa Fe College police chief, and Jo Lee Beaty, a former educator and administrator.

Michael Raburn, a local pastor at Gainesville Vineyard, is the fourth candidate in the race. Raburn didn’t refile his papers to move to District 2 until Friday, but like Book and Beaty he was redrawn out of District 3.

The District 3 race has three candidates, including two people who are making a second run for the commission. Retired software engineer Patrick Ingle last ran for the commission in the fall in a failed bid for the at-large seat Chestnut now holds.

Dejeon Cain, the owner of Fortitude Security, initially filed to run in District 4, but with the redrawn district boundaries, he re-filed to run in District 3. Cain was part of a large field of candidates for an at-large commission seat in 2012 that Poe ultimately won.

Casey Willits, a residency program coordinator at UF, is the third candidate to qualify for the District 3 race.

The District 4 race features Bryan Eastman, the owner of website-building software company PoliEngine, and Christian Newman, a former science teacher and wildlife biologist who now works for a nonprofit energy research organization.

Alachua County BOCC

Three BOCC seats are up for election, but only Marihelen Wheeler, the incumbent commissioner in District 2, will face a primary challenger. Wheeler, a Democrat, will run against fellow Democrat Charlie Jackson, whom the county fired as facilities director in February. The winner will face Republican Ed Braddy, a former Gainesville mayor and city commissioner, in November.

Democrat and incumbent Commissioner Ken Cornell, who represents District 4, will face Republican challenger Van Elmore and software developer Anthony Johnson, who is not affiliated with a political party, in November.

The District 1 position will pit Mary Alford, the former Democratic commissioner who resigned in May over residency questions, with the person that the governor appointed to replace her: Republican Raemi Eagle-Glenn. Neither Alford nor Eagle-Glenn has a primary challenger, and their November race will be a rematch of the 2020 District 1 race, which Alford won with 62.8% of the vote.

Alachua County School Board

The county school board has four seats up for election in August, and two candidates have qualified for each of the non-partisan races.

Diyonne McGraw

Tina Certain, the SBAC’s vice chair, will face Daniel Fisher for the District 1 seat. 

Much like the BOCC District 1 race, the District 2 school board race features a former member versus her governor-appointed replacement. Diyonne McGraw was removed by Gov. Ron DeSantis for not living in the district she represented in June 2021. Mildred Russell was appointed to replace McGraw in August 2021. They both will be on the August ballot.

Ray Holt, a business owner and cattle rancher, and Sarah Rockwell, a freelance editor, will compete for the District 3 seat currently held by Gunnar F. Paulson.

The District 5 race will feature retired educator Kay Abbitt going up against Prescott Cowles, who is special projects manager for the Alachua County Public School system’s Office of Evaluation, Accountability, and Data Analytics.

Soil and Water Conservation District

The board of the Alachua County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) will fill five seats as part of the November ballot. Only a few people had filed to run for seats before this week, bt  the qualifying drew to a close, each of the non-partisan races drew at least two candidates.

The candidates who qualified for the SWCD seats are:

District Group 1

  • Richard Feagle
  • Jancie Vinson

District Group 2

  • Richard Alex Daughtery
  • Archie L. Matthews
  • Chris Trowell

District Group 3

  • Walt Boyer
  • John Chamberlain
  • Daniel “Danny” Gordon

District Group 4

  • Nevaeh Martinez Renwick
  • Patrick Sell

District Group 5

  • Natasha Holt
  • Patricia Lee

The SWCD promotes conservation and wise use of the county’s soil, water and natural resources, according to its website. Working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, the SWCD creates ways to conserve water, prevent soil erosion and educate the public on conservation and stewardship issues.

John Chamberlain, Archie Matthews and Daniel Gordon are already serving on the board, and are running for re-election to the body.

Court and Circuit Court Judges

Candidates for three county and six Eighth Judicial Circuit judgeships, which are also non-partisan, went through the official qualifying process earlier this spring. With one exception, all of the local judge candidates are unopposed. 

However, four people qualified in April to run for the Eighth Judicial Circuit seat being vacated by Judge Monica Brasington.

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