The Gainesville mayoral race will head to a runoff on Nov. 8 between Harvey Ward and Ed Bielarski after none of the nine candidates received a majority of the votes cast.
Ward earned 28% of the vote with 5,884 ballots cast in his favor. Bielarski followed behind with 27% and 5,567 ballots. Trailing in third and fourth place, Commissioner David Arreola grabbed 15% and Gary Gordon got 14%.
Of the other five candidates, July Thomas received the most votes at 10%. The other four — Ansaun J. Fisher, Donald Shepherd, Adam Rosenthal and Gabriel Hillel — earned 1-2% of the votes each.
Current Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe has hit his term limit on the commission and said in March that he has no further plans to run for public office.
Both Ward and Bielarski have opposed controversial zoning and land use changes that have recently roiled the community. Ward voted against the ordinances at first reading, and Bielarski has also spoken out on social media and in public comment at meetings against apartment complexes in residential neighborhoods.
The two will continue the contest in November, seeing who can pick up the needed votes from the other candidates.
On Facebook, Bielarski informed followers about the upcoming runoff.
“It’s looking like Harvey and I are heading to a run-off – November 8th” Bielarski said. “Looks like I gotta get some new walking shoes, LOL.”
Ward did the same, saying he was thrilled to head to the runoff.
“I’m going to take a deep breath or two and get out in the field again tomorrow to start winning the next step,” Ward said on Facebook. “We have a lot more votes to win.”
The mayoral race began heating up in January, when the city commission fired Ed Bielarski from his role as general manager of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU). Bielarski vowed at the meeting that he’d produce change for the commission and said he’d run for mayor.
Within a week of the firing, both Bielarski and Ward, who initiated the termination, filed to run for mayor.
When motioning to terminate Bielarski, Ward credited him for saving the city hundreds of millions of dollars on the Deerhaven Renewable Energy Center. However, Ward pointed to three GRU project failures since then and a lack of follow up with the commission.
“It is completely acceptable to swing big, and I encourage it,” Ward said at the meeting. “But if we swing and miss, we cannot pretend we were never up to bat and quietly move on to the next game.”
Bielarski offered counters to two of the projects mentioned but said he didn’t want to argue the points. He added that actions by the commission have been “scaring the living boots” off of GRU employees.
In September 2021, Mayor Lauren Poe asked Bielarski to resign. At a special meeting, GRU employees and members of the public spoke for more than two hours of public comment in support of Bielarski, pushing the meeting to 1 a.m.
At the termination meeting, Bielarski commented on the unexpected nature of the motion.
“Today was supposed to be a day for general policy when we were going to demonstrate how the city has come together between the new city manager and myself,” Bielarski said.
Both Arreola and Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker voted against the firing. Then Commissioner-elect Cynthia Chestnut also opposed the motion in public comment.
August 23 Runoff Results:
- Harvey Ward: 5,884, 27.94%
- Ed Bielarski: 5,567, 26.44%
- David Arreola: 3,237 votes, 15.36%
- Gary Gordon: 3,041, 14.44%
- July Thomas: 2,117, 10.06%
- Ansaun J. Fisher: 449, 2.13%
- Gabriel Hillel: 272, 1.29%
- Donald Shepherd: 251, 1.19%
- Adam Rosenthal: 236, 1.12%
Editor’s note: This is a developing story and will be updated.