Meet the candidates: Gainesville City Commission

(From left) James Ingle, Fareed Johnson and Desmon Duncan-Walker, along with Michael Perkins, are running for two Gainesville City Commission seats.
(From left) James Ingle, Fareed Johnson and Desmon Duncan-Walker, along with Michael Perkins, are running for two Gainesville City Commission seats.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories Mainstreet Daily News is running to provide information about the candidates who have qualified for the upcoming elections. 

The Gainesville City Commission has three seats open for the August election, but no one filed to run against at-large Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, allowing her to run unopposed.  

The other two seats—the at-large seat held by Commissioner Reina Saco and the District 1 seat held by Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker—both have challengers.  

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Michael Perkins is running against Duncan-Walker. James Ingle and Fareed Johnson will oppose each other for the at-large seat after Saco decided not to run again.  

Mainstreet is publishing candidate questionnaire answers as received, with only edits for clarity.   

For more information about the election, visit the Supervisor of Elections website. For a map of the districts, click here.   

Gainesville City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker
Courtesy City of Gainesville Desmon Duncan-Walker

Desmon Duncan-Walker for District 1 

Age: 47 

Occupation: Assistant Office Manager  

Website: None  

Previous experience in elected office:      

Gainesville City Commissioner, District 1 (2021 – present)  

Public service other than elected office:  

Miami-Dade County Department of Park & Recreation/Division of Arts & Culture  

  • The Women’s Park & Roxcy O’Neal Bolton Women’s History Gallery  
  • Former Manager  

 City of Gainesville /Community Redevelopment Agency  

  • Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street Advisory Board  
  • Former Vice Chair  

 City of Gainesville  

  • The A. Quinn Jones Museum & Cultural Center  
  • Former Manager  

 The Gainesville Alliance for Equitable Development  

  • Founder  

 Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church  

  • Lifetime Member  
  • Praise & Worship Leader  

 Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.  

  • Member, Mu Upsilon Omega Chapter (Gainesville, Florida)  
  • Former Basileus, Gamma Tau Chapter/Bethune-Cookman University (Daytona Beach, Florida)  

What prompted you to run for reelection? 

In my brief time in office, I am proud to have crafted policy that is beginning to meaningfully address critical issues that impact our quality of life such as Gun Violence and Equitable Development. I have also implemented important infrastructure improvements such as the new light and crosswalk on East University Avenue (where 4-year-old Dylan Roberts lost his life) and the now ADA compliant sidewalks in East Gainesville. There is still much to be done. I am seeking reelection to continue advancing these works as well as new Public Health and Safety policy, infrastructure improvements and economic development.    

What’s your perspective on the issues between the City Commission and GRU Authority and the state law creating the new governance? 

The City’s relationship with GRU presents considerable opportunities for discussion and improvement. As the City and GRU Authority vie for power and control of the utility, the City’s divide between “the haves” and the “have nots” is widening and Gainesville is rapidly becoming a place that is unaffordable for many to live. While some residents take solace in the idea of a Referendum being placed on the ballot in the fall in the interest of democracy, others’ concerns boil down solely to being able to pay their utility bills and survive. In such a critical and politically uncertain moment, the issues must be met with diplomacy as diplomacy is about finding common goals to improve quality of life for everyone and working towards those goals together.  

What are the two most important issues facing the City Commission? 

It is impossible to narrow the most important issues facing the City Commission down to just two as many of the myriad issues that we face are of equal significance. I believe the city’s budget, the City Commission’s relationship with the GRU Authority, Gun Violence and Equitable Development (to name a few) are all pressing issues that, if not addressed with intentionality and diplomacy and guided by data, local research and community input will lead to a diminished quality of life for our residents and a Gainesville where disparities grow.  

What do you hope to accomplish as part of the City Commission? 

I hope to continue to advance the Public Safety, Public Health and Equitable Development policies I implemented in my first term and to craft additional policy that responds to the needs of the city’s residents, business owners, employees and the most vulnerable. In addition, I look forward to working with Alachua County to resurface SE 15th Street, to continue additional infrastructure improvements throughout District 1, to continue to support the development of affordable housing, continue the talks I initiated with Hitchcock’s Grocery and others to create a path forward for a grocery store in East Gainesville, to continue my work with healthcare providers to expand primary, mental and dental healthcare access in East Gainesville, to incentivize the economic development of East Gainesville and to attract businesses and industry to the entire city that will grow our tax base.  

What votes from the current City Commission have you disagreed with, if any, and why? 

Separate from the Commission majority, I consistently voted throughout my term not to raise utility rates and taxes. I did so because I did not believe that it was fair for the residents of this city to have to pay for the actions of any Commission that lead to the city’s significant debt. I also voted against raising Commission salaries. I did this—not because I believe the current Commission salary is commensurate to the work—but because I had observed the financial crisis that the city was in, the necessary reorganization of our finance department, the painstaking hours that new finance staff dedicated to addressing the issues, our responsibility to respond to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and the findings in the state audit that required us to cut the budget and I concluded that the city could not afford to pay Commissioners more at that time.     

Michael Perkins for District 1 

Website: Facebook page 

Perkins did not respond to Mainstreet’s inquiry. 

James Ingle
Courtesy of James Ingle James Ingle

James Ingle for at-large seat 

Age: 46  

Occupation: Electrician and president of the local electrician’s union (IBEW local 1205)  

Website: votejamesingle.com 

Public service other than elected office:  

I have served on both the Alachua County Plan Board and the local CareerSource Board. 

What prompted you to run for election? 

I decided to run for office because I am tired of seeing people struggle. Gainesville is a great place to live, but it is a hard place to earn a living. I have spent a large part of my life, as an apprenticeship instructor, a member of CareerSource, and a union organizer, working to make things better for workers and their families. I think that we can do better for working people here and I am looking forward to being part of that change.  

What’s your perspective on the issues between the City Commission and GRU Authority and the state law creating the new governance?  

The GRU Authority bill was introduced at the last minute, with almost no public input, in a basement in Tallahassee, 150 miles away. The original members were not legally allowed to hold their appointed positions and subsequently resigned. Despite knowing they couldn’t legally hold their seats, they still made major policy decisions before their resignations took effect. It is entirely inappropriate for someone to take an appointment to the Authority, use their position to terminate the GRU general manager, and then secure what will likely be the highest-paid position in Gainesville. This process lacked public notice and debate, giving the strong impression that decisions were made secretly, outside of the Sunshine laws. The people of Gainesville will have the chance to vote in a referendum in November about this governance issue, an opportunity they should have had initially. My hope is that we can move past this failed experiment.  

What are the two most important issues facing the City Commission?  

The one that looms largest right now is probably GRU governance. Just because it affects so many other parts of the city, the budget, and the workforce. The uncertainty of trying to plan for the city when critical decisions are made by a board with no accountability whose decisions can change at a moment’s notice is incredibly difficult. The amount of next year’s transfer has changed multiple times just in the few months the board has existed. The second is affordable housing and holding developers accountable to the needs of the people of Gainesville.  

What do you hope to accomplish as part of the City Commission?  

There are many goals I’d like to achieve, but expanding apprenticeship programs in Gainesville is particularly close to my heart. Many local jobs are in retail or service sectors, which often lack long-term career opportunities. Apprenticeships provide alternatives to college, offering training in various trades with no tuition, decent wages, and pathways to solid careers. They also help local businesses meet the demand for a qualified workforce. As a City Commission, we can take several steps to encourage our contractors to use apprenticeships and expand existing local programs.  

What votes from the current City Commission have you disagreed with, if any, and why? One of the biggest missteps was how the push for eliminating single-family zoning was handled. The policy had flaws, but the bigger issue was the way it felt pushed through. We need to reassess our zoning and land use to make necessary adjustments. Development in Gainesville isn’t progressing in the best way, and we could manage it better. These discussions require trust and open dialogue, which was undermined by the way this issue was handled. This has made it harder to address widely acknowledged problems, as people are now afraid to engage in these necessary conversations. 

Fareed Johnson
Courtesy of Fareed Johnson Fareed Johnson

Fareed Johnson for at-large seat 

Age: 32 

Occupation: Commercial Driver 

Website: electfareed.com 

Previous experience in elected office:  

N/A 

Public service other than elected office: 

U.S. Air Force Air Mobility and Special Operations Commands (Airman), Department of Juvenile Justice (Detention officer), Waste Corporation of America (Residential driver), Mayor’s Community Response Council (Member), GPD Police Advisory Council (Chair/Vice Chair) 

What prompted you to run for election? 

Like most, my journey to being politically active has been a process. I started out only supporting party-line initiatives and ideas, but I realized that we need both sides of the aisle to be successful. After many conversations, I began to understand that many of us have a balanced perspective and a desire for common-sense policies. Our community needs representation. Most importantly, we need sensible representation. What Washington, D.C., or Tallahassee believes is best may not work in Gainesville. I am running to do what is best for Gainesville not New York, not California, and not Texas. 

What’s your perspective on the issues between the City Commission and GRU Authority and the state law creating the new governance? 

My perspective is that before sounding the alarm and firing off lawsuits, we must at least try working together. I see the GRU Authority as a layer of checks and balances. Growing up here in Gainesville, the one thing I’ve consistently heard from the east to the west, among all races and backgrounds, is that GRU is unaffordable. We now have a board tasked with addressing that issue. The Gainesville City Commission has played a huge role in that unaffordability. If the GRU Authority can stabilize rates for the residents of Gainesville and customers of GRU, they will have my support. As a commissioner, I will always advocate for GRU employees and for keeping GRU an award-winning utility service provider. 

What are the two most important issues facing the City Commission? 

If you know Gainesville, then you know we have lost all control of our crime rate. Gun violence has to be addressed. I have worked in and gone through the criminal justice system, and I have both an interest and a duty to address this issue. Second, our housing inventory must be improved. The current housing crisis is more than a supply issue; it is a supply and demand issue. Addressing our local housing shortage will require innovative solutions that work with both individuals and corporations to build housing, especially single-family homes. 

What do you hope to accomplish as part of the City Commission? 

As a member of the commission, I will bring a youthful and sensible outlook to resolve our most troublesome issues. Many of the issues we are facing have a significant impact on individuals age 40 and under. Crime, housing, and a dwindling workforce are creating pressure in other areas such as mental health. City debt and property taxes are impacting everyone. I will be the commissioner who listens rather than tells the citizens what they need. Providing individuals with the tools they need is important to me. Information and opportunity are the two most consistent ingredients in prosperity, and that is all that many of our citizens are asking for. We must deliver. 

What votes from the current City Commission have you disagreed with, if any, and why?  

Gun Violence Summit – The gun violence problem in Gainesville is occurring and growing out in the community. The solution must be taken to the source of the problem. I strongly disagreed with hosting a summit at the Hilton. The ARPA funds used on the event should have been used to address evidence-based causes.  

Charter officer raises – our charter officers are some of our highest paid city employees. Our city commission knew we were experiencing tough financial times but passed charter officer raises without a plan to give those at the bottom raises. Fast forward, there is now a conversation to cut positions from essential departments.

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R. Nelson

Johnson sounds interesting as a commission candidate.

James Gardner

That’s because he’s a shoe-in politician specifically groomed by party elites to continue the democraptic agenda in Gainesville. However, he’s a better choice than Ingle. I hope to have a real conversation with Mr. Johnson in the very near future about his narrative and his background. I do not hold any hope Gainesville will be a better place to live on any measure. Party politics matters more here than outcomes of equity and inclusion for ALL residents and responsible governess seems like a long shot at best.

John Smith

“Groomed by the party elite” might be a bit of a stretch. The only registered James Ingle voter in the county appears to be a registered DEM and Johnson NPA. Not that party affil really matters in this race. Since Johnson mentioned it, I do now have questions about Johnson’s views on Gun Control. It appears to be his priority issue, which is somewhat odd for a commissioner level appointment given preemption in the state.