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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

As the sun went down and the air turned cold Monday evening, Andy Coffey stood alone on the corner of University Avenue and 13th Street with a sign urging passers-by to vote Thomas Hawkins Jr. for the Gainesville City Commission.

"I love politics," said Coffey, a UF building construction junior and Hawkins' friend.

Though he stood by himself, Coffey is not alone in his interest in today's election.

Political experts say record numbers of young people could turn out for today's vote, which decides Florida's Democratic and Republican primaries, three seats on the City Commission and a property tax amendment to the state constitution.

Michael Martinez, a UF associate professor of political science, said the candidates who are running make the primary race particularly interesting this year.

Democratic voters have been attracted by young and vibrant candidates, particularly Sen. Barack Obama, 47, Martinez said.

"A, he's young," he said. "And B, he has the sort of message that might appeal to young people. It tries to be less partisan."

Andre Samuels, a UF biological engineering senior, said he likes Obama's spirit of cooperation.

"I think he understands the beauty of our system of government is that it requires compromise," he said.

Republicans have been drawn in by the primary's competition, Martinez said.

"There is no front-runner right now," he said, explaining that Mitt Romney and John McCain both have a chance.

The race is also the first time since 1952 that no incumbent president or vice president is running for election, said Michael Heaney, a UF political science assistant professor.

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Heaney said he feels both Republicans and Democrats are eager to be done with the Bush administration.

"The 2000s will definitely go down as a dark period in our history," he said, "and people want to get beyond that."

Today's young voters are also more politically interested than past generations, he added, because of Sept. 11, 2001. "That made politics seem a lot more important in people's lives," Heaney said.

Voters from the last generation, now in their 30s, did not have a similar event to connect them to the political process, he said. Young voters also have reason to be interested in local races today.

Four of the commission candidates - Robert Agrusa, Thomas Hawkins Jr., Armando Grundy and Christopher Salazar - are less than 30 years old.

Currently, the youngest member of the commission is Ed Braddy, 35.

Coffey said he believes it is the ages of commission candidates that brought students to the street corner Monday to wave signs for Hawkins and his opponent, Robert Agrusa.

"This one's exciting because we have so many young candidates," he said.

Giacomo Savardi, a UF freshman, said he also thought the candidates' ages made the election more interesting.

"I think it attracts people because they're saying, 'One of us is up there,'" he said.

Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa, the second-youngest commissioner at 37, said she didn't think younger commissioners would change much about the city's government.

One difference will be that with terms expiring for Commissioners Ed Braddy and Rick Bryant, no one on the commission will have school-age children, she said.

But the major issues in Gainesville will still be energy, homelessness and a shrinking budget, she said.

Even if younger commissioners have different ideas, she said, they can't do much by themselves.

"Certainly you can study issues," she said, "but if you don't have three other people willing to vote for it, it's a moot point."

Mastrodicasa said she didn't think lack of experience would hurt young commissioners.

"That's how you learn," she said.

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