Gainesville City Commission and mayoral candidates got the 2016 city elections underway Monday night at a forum in which they discussed diversity, same-sex marriage and local issues.
About 40 people attended the forum, hosted by the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida and the Alachua County branch of the NAACP, at the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida.
The event was the first of several forums before the March 15 Presidential Preference Primary elections.
In the mayoral race, incumbent Ed Braddy faces former city commissioner Lauren Poe and Gainesville resident Donald Shepherd Sr.
The District 4 Commission race is more narrow: Outspoken landlord Jim Konish is up against ambitious entrepreneur Adrian Hayes-Santos.
Candidates began with opening statements and then dove into new territory outside of their established platforms: employee diversity, same-sex marriage and equality for the LGBTQ+ community.
Braddy was the only candidate who did not voice support for same-sex marriage, declining to support or oppose the issue.
The forum then moved into plans to develop East Gainesville’s economy.
Shepherd promised citywide economic equality, while Konish said the city needs to defund Grace Marketplace and Dignity Village and use those funds to improve infrastructure.
“We cannot dump things like Dignity Village on East Gainesville… and think we’re doing East Gainesville good, because we’re not,” Konish said.
Braddy stressed the need to make the area more user-friendly, especially for small business owners who don’t have connections with people at UF or the city.
Poe said the city needs to make East Gainesville a premier, welcoming place to live with more opportunities for residents.
Hayes-Santos, who said he lives near East Gainesville, also promised to address issues facing the area.
“There are significant problems on the east side,” he said.
He said the city needs to improve transportation in the area, and called for the city, Santa Fe College, UF, the school board and others to help improve East Gainesville.
Candidates also addressed the potential purchase of a controversial biomass plant and whether residents should vote to approve such a purchase.
The City Commission discussed the matter at length last week, but a decision seems far off.
“Purchase of the biomass plant is a ridiculous proposition that should not be submitted to the voters,” Konish said, explaining it’s too complex of a question to go on a ballot.
Hayes-Santos questioned the proposal.
“Should it go to a vote? I don’t know if it will work out going to a vote,” he said.
Braddy opposed the idea, but Shepherd supported it.
Poe said voters should know exactly what they’re voting on if such a vote is put on the ballot. Four other forums are currently scheduled in January and February, according to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections’ website.
From left, Adrian Hayes-Santos, Jim Konish, Mayor Ed Braddy, Lauren Poe and Donald Shepherd Sr. participate in a city elections forum at the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida on Monday night.