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Thursday, February 02, 2023

City Commission, mayoral candidates debate during forum

<p>Candidates debated issues at the Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus forum Monday night at the County Administration Building.</p>

Candidates debated issues at the Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus forum Monday night at the County Administration Building.

The Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus hosted the second candidate forum of the 2013 Gainesville mayoral and District 4 City Commission campaigns Monday night at the Alachua County Administration Building.

The debate began just after 6 p.m. with about 50 people in attendance.

Former Commissioner W.E. “Mac” McEachern was the only participant in the District 4 debate with Alfredo Espinosa, a 20-year-old UF building construction junior, and incumbent Randy Wells absent.

A volunteer from Wells’ campaign said Wells couldn’t be at the debate because of a community development committee meeting that conflicted with the forum.

The first segment of the debate focused on the District 4 race.

McEachern said he would work to attract employers to Gainesville and protect neighborhoods from business encroachment. He also mentioned his goal of closing the gap between local government and city residents.

“Commissioners are employees of the citizens,” he said.

Mark Venzke, former Gainesville-Alachua County Regional Airport Authority board member Peter Johnson, Donald Shepherd Sr. and former city commissioners Scherwin L. Henry and Ed Braddy participated in the mayoral debate. Mayor Craig Lowe was not in attendance due to a family emergency.

Among the issues discussed during the debate were the city’s biomass facility contract and the Bus Rapid Transit system.

All the mayoral candidates said they would support pulling the city out of the current biomass contract. The facility is set to become operational later this year.

In regards to the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, Braddy said it’s too expensive, adding that city funds should be used to reduce bus wait times in east Gainesville.

BRT features longer, higher-capacity buses and bus-only traffic lanes that allow for the bypassing of traffic congestion. BRT has longer distances between stops than traditional buses. BRT buses have floors the same height as curbs, and covered bus stations.

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“(BRT) would be just taking a big pile of money and throwing it in a hole for us to do that,” Braddy said.

Venzke proposed implementing it on a trial basis to determine if the system were to work.

Henry said BRT is a good concept, but the city should focus on improving the current Regional Transit System bus service and fixing roads first.

Johnson said for something like BRT or improved RTS service to work, it must be a viable option for Gainesville residents.

Candidates debated issues at the Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus forum Monday night at the County Administration Building.

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