Perry Clawson felt the city commission wasn’t listening to Gainesville residents, so he decided to get involved in local government.
For the past six years, Clawson has voiced concerns about Gainesville Regional Utilities rates, the Biomass plant, student safety and employment rates to the city commissioners. But after the 59-year-old attended countless meetings, he said he grew tired of commissioners politely nodding to the concerns of Gainesville residents and not taking action. Now he’s campaigning for the District 2 city commission seat against Sheryl Eddie and Harvey Ward Jr. to replace Commissioner Todd Chase.
The city needs a commissioner who will listen to the public, Clawson said.
“I just got tired of complaining about my local government and decided since I’m retired I can do something about it and run,” he said.
But as Clawson campaigned, he ran into trouble with his past.
In January, he said, someone anonymously distributed about 300 letters detailing his criminal record.
His arrests include battery, larceny, domestic violence and driving while intoxicated, the Gainesville Sun reported.
An order was also filed in November to restore a civil lawsuit from 2010 where Clawson is accused of stabbing a man in South Carolina, according to a police report.
“People get arrested, that happens every day,” said Clawson, who has lived in Gainesville for the past six years, when he moved after getting married. “In my case, the charges were dismissed in almost all the cases.”
Clawson, a retired Army Colonel and Purple Heart recipient, has never run for public office. He said he wants to manage Gainesville’s growth to prevent transportation problems such as heavy traffic.
For students, Clawson said he wants to make the intersection of 13th Street and University Avenue safe by creating an overhead crosswalk.
Clawson said he wants to redistribute the city budget to put more money toward basic services such as infrastructure and fire rescue. In addition, he would like to see lower rates for GRU and make careful decisions regarding the decision to buy the biomass plant, a renewable energy site.
“We had a lot of people who spoke out against the biomass plant,” he said. “The city commission didn’t listen to that.”
Kimberly Clawson, the candidate’s wife, said people don’t know her husband’s compassionate and generous side. The two met in a restaurant in Winter Park, Florida, when Clawson was visiting his sons in Orlando.
“He goes out of his way to help perfect strangers,” she said. “That’s just Perry’s nature.”
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Sheryl Eddie is hoping to bring attention to women’s representation in Gainesville’s government.
The 51-year-old is running for Gainesville City Commission District 2 because she is horrified that despite the nearly equal presence of both genders in the city, there’s only one woman among 12 men on the Gainesville and Alachua commissions.
“That’s pretty scary to me,” Eddie said. “Not to be rude, but if we keep putting the same white guys on government, we’re going to keep getting the same things over and over again.”
Her goals for the commission position are focused mainly on public transportation, including replicating UF’s Regional Transit System bus program on a larger scale for the city.
She wants to establish bus routes that only go up and down the main urban streets, like University Avenue, 13th Street and 34th Street and make connecting routes from the outskirts of town to those main streets.
Although she knows buying buses will be expensive, she also hopes to raise the drivers’ pay to encourage more people to work for RTS.
Eddie said she’s passionate about public transportation because her grandfather used to be a streetcar and bus driver in New Orleans.
“Transit is, I guess, kind of in my blood,” the Florida State University communications alumna said.
Linda Williams, the Democratic Women’s Club of Alachua County president, said she knows Eddie is capable of accomplishing her campaign promises. She watched Eddie, her predecessor as president, push club membership from roughly five members in 2014 to 67 members in 2016.
“She’s always concerned about other people’s problems and wanting to solve them,” Williams said. “She’s compassionate.”
Laurie Porter, the development coordinator for Catholic Charities, said she has seen that compassion firsthand as Eddie’s next-door neighbor for the last 15 years.
“If I wasn’t home, and I needed someone to check on my kids, I would trust her with the keys to my house,” Porter said. “I don’t think you can give someone a bigger compliment than that.”
Porter said she thinks Eddie would be a great city commissioner because she’ll advocate for women’s rights and equal pay. She also likes that Eddie can relate to the single parent experience, having been a single mother for a few years.
“As a voter, those are all things I care about,” Porter said.
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As a fourth-generation Gainesville native, Harvey Ward Jr. hopes to make Gainesville “the next great American city.”
A graduate of Eastside High School and UF, Ward says he takes great pride in his hometown.
His largest inspiration stems from being a father to his three daughters, he said, and that’s why he’s running as a candidate for the District 2 City Commission seat.
“The biggest reason I’m running is so that they can look around and say there is no place they’d rather be,” Ward said.
If elected, Ward aims to eliminate the gender pay gap, increase voter turnout by moving the city’s elections to the fall, and ensure that the Wild Spaces and Public Places initiative is executed appropriately, he said.
He also wants to invite additional internet providers to lower the cost of broadband in the city and work to improve transportation, including for bicyclists, in Gainesville.
His ultimate goal is to push Gainesville into becoming “a city where every child has an opportunity to succeed, every working family can thrive and every elder can age with dignity.”
Ward is currently serving as executive director of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Foundation, the co-chair of City of Gainesville Empowerment Center Work Group and is a board member of Friends of Grace Marketplace and the Hippodrome State Theatre, he said.
“Gainesville is a place of opportunities and more,” Ward said. “I’m the candidate with the most experience in Gainesville and the longest track record.”
He said he takes pride in the fact that he has not accepted money from any political action committees or incorporations but has raised around $34,000 from over 350 individual donors.
He updates his supporters continuously through Facebook livestream and says they’re the reason why he feels democracy is flourishing in Gainesville.
His involvement in the community is one of the reasons why Susan Bottcher, a former Gainesville city commissioner, endorsed Ward’s campaign.
“Harvey Ward understands the many needs of our community and more importantly, how the governing process works,” Bottcher said. “Harvey will come into the job with these skills and abilities already in place.”
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