Commissioner, former GRU head join mayoral race

Former Gainesville Regional Utilities general manager Ed Bielarski has filed to run for mayor of the city that fired him—and his newest opponent is the commissioner who initiated his termination.

At a General Policy Committee (GPC) meeting Thursday, Commissioner Harvey Ward made a motion to terminate Bielarski without cause, and the city commission voted 4-2 to fire Bielarski.

At the end of his final comments to the commission on Thursday, Bielarski said: “So the one thing I got from Commissioner Ward was to swing big… I’ll take that to heart. I will swing big. I will run for mayor… I’ll change government.”

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On Monday, Bielarski filed the initial paperwork to run for mayor.

And Ward, a Gainesville native who has represented the city’s District 2 since 2017, announced Tuesday he too will be joining the race for mayor.

“I see a city where we connect to each other and to the world around us, where we commit to safe streets and clean, reliable energy and where we work together to create peace of mind for every person, every working family who calls Gainesville home,” Ward said in a press release announcing his candidacy.

During the GPC meeting Ward said that the failure of three recent projects prompted his motion to fire Bielarski.

The utility “missed big,” Ward said, when a potential transmission line agreement with Florida Power & Light was put on hold in early 2020, when GRU signed an agreement with Origis to build a solar farm in Archer that failed due to extensive community opposition, and when GRU didn’t make the short-list to build a central power plant for UF.

Ward also criticized Bielarski’s communication about these projects, saying the commission hadn’t received timely reports about the projects.

“It is completely acceptable to swing big, and I encourage it, but if we swing and miss, we can’t pretend we were never up to bat and quietly move on to the next game,” Ward said.

Ward and Bielarski will be facing District 3 Commissioner David Arreola, one of two commissioners—along with Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker—who voted against Bielarski’s firing.

The fourth candidate in the race so far, Donald Shepherd, shoved and threatened Arreola while the commissioner was trying to talk to Bielarski after Thursday’s firing. Arreola praised Bielarski for trying to intervene.

The regular city election is scheduled for August 23, which aligns it with the statewide primaries.

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