Gainesville City Commission candidates were all in agreement Wednesday night: The commission must involve younger community members, primarily UF students, in local elections.
The UF College Democrats, UF College Republicans and nonpartisan student fellows from the Bob Graham Center for Public Service hosted the candidates, during which they discussed civil citations for marijuana, alternative-energy options, trafﬁc in Gainesville and transportation.
About 20 students who attended were given the opportunity to ask questions. Elections for city commission seats will be held March 14. The candidates included Jenn Powell and Helen Warren for at-large positions, Sheryl Eddie, Perry Clawson and Harvey Ward Jr. for District 2, and David Arreola and Craig Carter for District 3. Both Clawson and Carter were absent.
Ward was the only candidate to propose moving the date of the city commission election from March to either the primary elections in August or the general elections in November to improve voter turnout and save money.
“We can involve more people by moving the elections; we can save a couple hundred thousand dollars,” he said.
Although Ward’s suggestion was unique at the forum, Gainesville residents have petitioned to change the date of the election in previous years. During the forum, candidates agreed that solar energy is the most practical form of renewable and alternative energy in Gainesville, but Powell said if elected, she wouldn’t want to get involved in expensive, lengthy energy contracts.
“We need to be careful that we don’t sign up for something that’s going to cost us a lot of money in the long run,” Powell said.
Arreola, who was the only one to represent District 3 at the forum because of Carter’s absence, emphasized the importance of improving voter turnout.
“Ultimately, us candidates have to do a better job of reaching out,” he said, “but when historically the turnout is so low, sometimes it’s difficult.” Dillon Boatner, 20, who attended the forum, said he agrees with Arreola. “Our local government tends to have the greatest impact on our daily lives,” the UF political science sophomore said. “I think it’s critical that young people understand that.”
Graham Center student fellow Hali McKinley Lester, who moderated the forum, said although she doesn’t want to endorse anyone in fear of swaying others’ opinions, she was impressed by all the candidates.
“I really thought each person presented important points,” said the 20-year-old UF international studies and history junior. “I appreciated that it was a very civil discussion.”
District 2 City Commission candidates Sheryl Eddie and Harvey Ward Jr. answered questions prepared by UF students in Pugh Hall at a forum on Wednesday evening.