Ward to take mayoral reins from Poe in January 

Harvey Ward was elected Gainesville's next mayor on Tuesday.
Harvey Ward was elected Gainesville's next mayor on Tuesday. (Photo by Taryn Ashby)

Voters selected Harvey Ward on Tuesday to lead the city of Gainesville as the next mayor, capping off months of campaigning and a field with nine other candidates.  

Ward, a city commissioner, defeated opponent Ed Bielarski, the former general manager of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), with 58% of the vote—20,310 total votes. Bielarski received 42% of the vote with a turnout of 53%.  

Two new city commissioners also earned a seat on the dais following Tuesday’s election. Casey Willits won against Dejeon Cain with 54% of the vote. In the closest city race, Ed Book garnered 51% of the vote to top James Ingle by around 330 votes. 

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With the nine months of campaigning finished, Ward said work remains. 

“We have a lot of work left to do, and I thought it was important for somebody with good experience and good ideas to run for mayor,” Ward said in an interview. 

Casey Willits was voted in as Gainesville City Commissioner for District 3 on Tuesday.
Photo by Taryn Ashby Casey Willits was voted in as Gainesville City Commissioner for District 3 on Tuesday.

Gainesville voters have now elected Ward three times to represent them. He said one goal as mayor is bridging trust with citizens.  

“There are many reasons the public trust is damaged, but it doesn’t matter why,” Ward said. “The reality is that these folks don’t necessarily believe that City Hall is on their side, and we need to change that.” 

On Facebook, Bielarski thanked his supporters, who helped boost his resolve during the campaign. 

“However, the voters have chosen Harvey Ward as Gainesville’s next mayor – by a significant margin,” Bielarski said. “I wish him well and God’s speed in his next four years.” 

The two mayoral candidates worked with each other from 2015 through January 2022. 

At his election watch party, Book thanked his supporters. He highlighted the support of Jo Lee Beaty, who had run against him in the primary and called the race between him and Ingle the most ethical and clean. 

“This election shows that you have two really good candidates, and that one of those candidates just finished a little bit shorter than the other one,” said Book, the police chief at Santa Fe College.  

Ingle called to congratulate his opponent, and Book said he looks forward to still working with Ingle on issues.  

From now until January, Book said he plans to listen to current and former officials. Once on the dais, he said civility is a top priority, followed by the city’s financial status.  

“Once we know what we have, then we know how we can address the most critical needs in the city,” Book said. 

Willits spoke of the city’s financial responsibility during a Tuesday night speech. He said that involves GRU achieving financial and sustainability goals.  

Ed Book announces his victory at an election watch party.
Photo by Seth Johnson Ed Book announces his victory at an election watch party.

“Part of that is that we have to gain the city’s trust of our ratepayers by ensuring their bills are fair and that we have a path forward to controlling costs,” Willits said.  

Willits fell only a few votes short of winning outright in the August election, capturing 49% of the vote. On Tuesday, he said the city should continue in its welcoming ways. 

“As I ran for office, I felt a great sense of duty to ensure that Gainesville continues to be a place of refuge for people who need a place of opportunity and that we don’t turn our backs on portions of our community,” Willits said.  

Come January’s swearing-in ceremony, Book and Willits will join Bryan Eastman, who won his District 4 seat in August, as the newest commissioners. 

Candidates circled a few key issues leading into the elections: GRU rates, fiscal responsibility and single-family zoning. These issues took center stage during two different mayoral debates, and various candidates spoke against the elimination of single-family zoning at a city meeting. 

The mayoral race started with a jolt when the city commission, spearheaded by Ward, fired Bielarski as general manager of GRU in January. Bielarski vowed to reform the city government and run for mayor. 

Within a month, both Bielarski and Ward had filed to enter the race. The two finished well ahead of the rest of the field in August.  

Ed Bielarski supporters gathered at the Yellow Bar for an election watch party.
Photo by Seth Johnson Ed Bielarski supporters gathered at the Yellow Bar for an election watch party.

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Bob Robar

Civility in government….
Those words seem so lost in concept today….

Lin

It’s really sick that we have to look at desantis.