Jenn Powell decided to run for a City Commission seat just over three months ago.
The 38-year-old mother of four made her decision in January after she read an Alachua County Labor Coalition questionnaire, in which current at-large commission incumbent Helen Warren wrote, “the majority of working people are doing fine,” in response to a question asking about the issues working people in Gainesville must face.
Powell, who currently earns about $15 an hour as a bookkeeper, doesn’t agree with Warren that working people are doing well. She said she’s running for the city com- mission seat to fight for the workers who are underpaid and forgotten.
“There’s a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck, who don’t have health insurance and are struggling. Right now, we don’t really have anyone on the commission that’s hearing them,” Powell said. “People need representation.”
Powell said although she’s excited about the prospect of teaming up with UF to improve life in Gainesville and creating more affordable housing options for students, she wants to make sure low-income workers are supported first.
“In Gainesville, you’re competing with students who sometimes are just working for beer money,” Powell said.
Powell said although Warren obviously has more government experience than her, the incumbent hasn’t accomplished enough for her experience to be meaningful.
“My one campaign promise is that when I win, in three years, if I can’t run on the record of what I’ve managed to accomplish, I will not run for re-election,” Powell said.
A large part of her campaign platform is devoted to creating a more transparent city commission, she said. She plans to do so by supporting an anti-corruption bill to keep big money political action committees out of local elections as well as making her votes available to the public.
“Our trust in government and our trust in elected officials is really low. We can’t function like that,” Powell said. “It’s important that people have confidence in their elected officials.”
Joy Pitts, an activist who met Powell through local organizations, agrees that the city commission needs to be more transparent in its dealings.
“She really believes in that open- door policy, having it be a lot more transparent, which I think is definitely needed in a city where citizens wants their voice to be heard,” Pitts, 34, said. “I think that’s important.”
A passion for serving others led Helen Warren to Gainesville politics.
Having worked with local community organizations that benefit the environment, the elderly and at-risk children since earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UF, Warren decided running for the at-large city commission seat in 2014 was a better way to make an impact.
Now, with three years of experience, she’s hoping to continue her efforts in helping diminish Gainesville’s large economic and educational disparity as part of her re-election campaign for the seat.
“I’m looking at a bigger picture because of my understanding of how complex the city system is,” Warren, 63, said. “My life experiences are a little bit broader, too.”
Warren said she believes her past term has given her a deeper understanding of the city’s complex budget, which will aid her in creating solutions to issues such as homelessness, population increase, high utility costs and livable minimum wages.
She said she also hopes to work with UF on a strategic plan to improve life in Gainesville, which would ideally include UF students volunteering to work with the off-campus community.
“In order to make a change, we’re going to need people to volunteer and find ways to help mentor and provide guidance at every age level,” Warren said.
Warren said one of her goals is to work with other commissioners to amend the living wage ordinance and alter the current budget to raise the current minimum wage of $12.25 to $15 an hour for all workers in Gainesville, including temporary employees.
“There’s nobody with a greater passion to get all of our workers up to $15,” Warren said.
However, Jeremiah Tattersall, lead organizer of the Alachua County Labor Coalition, has worked with Warren in the past and said he was disappointed when she didn’t raise wages for part-time, seasonal and temporary workers during her first term.
He said if Warren is re-elected, he would love the opportunity to work with her in achieving a mutual living wage goal — he just doesn’t believe she has a plan to do so.
“I know she’s a good person, and this is something that means a lot to her, but I don’t believe she’s that effective of a commissioner if she can’t come up with some sort of a plan,” Tattersall said.
Contact Molly Vossler at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @molly_vossler
Left: Jenn Powell Right: Helen Warren