Months after his trip to Hawaii, Mayor Lauren Poe is on the road again.
The Gainesville mayor is off to Russia to join the 2019 Russia/U.S. Municipal Forum, taking place Oct. 10-12 in Lipetsk.
The forum will involve leaders from both nations sharing challenges and successes they face on the job, as well as conversations about the influence of globalization on urban economic development, safety and ecology, Poe said.
Poe said he was invited to attend by Sister Cities International (SCI), a nonprofit diplomacy network that has paired cities across the world since 1956. SCI paired Gainesville with Novorossiysk, culminating in the longest sister city relationship Gainesville has, Poe said. Once the forum is over, Poe will head to Novorossiysk.
He will be the 10th Gainesville mayor to visit.
“We were one of the earliest U.S.-Soviet sister cities,” Poe said. “They frequently send delegations over here as well. It’ll be my first visit. I’m really excited, and I know they’re excited to have us.”
The trip was organized by Steven Kalishman, member of the SCI board of directors and owner of his own Gainesville law office, Poe said. Kalishman is the original charter member of the city’s sister city relationship.
“His wife is actually from there,” Poe said. “We really maintain active and frequent dialogue with them because of that.”
The Alligator does not have access to the total cost of his U.S.-Moscow flight as of Thursday. The round-trip flight from Moscow to Anapa, Russia costs 10,930 rubles, or $167.87. This represents only part of Poe’s travel expenses, with the rest coming from Poe’s own pocket, he said.
While the announcement of his trip has drawn criticism following possible Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Poe said he thinks it should not have any impact on talks.
“We try not to let the national climate cloud what we’re doing,” Poe said. “There might be some discussion of national or international politics, but mainly we keep it to how we can support each other as two communities that can share this common bond.”
G.V. Kelley, a 33-year-old UF College of the Arts alumnus and former UF teaching assistant, said Poe’s attending the forum without acknowledging the “problematic attitudes of the Novorossiysk leadership” could send the wrong message to Gainesville.
Russia’s 2013 “gay propaganda” law, which prohibits “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” has been repeatedly and broadly cited to block any LGBTQ+ events in towns like Novorossiysk. This is part of the recent anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments emerging in Russia.
“It sends a clear message to Gainesville's queer community that tolerance is conditional... as opposed to an interest in earnestly supporting a marginalized community,” Kelley said.
In response, Poe noted that he would be happy to discuss these issues with Russian leaders and, in particular, the 2017 denial of Moscow pride parade co-founder Nikolay Alekseev’s request for a Novorossiysk parade.
“We know when we visit other places and cultures that they’re not going to see everything the same way we do,” Poe said. “It’s my job to share with them how we try to treat every individual with equity and equal dignity, to see their city moving in a different direction.”
Lauren Poe speaks to a crowd of reporters and about 100 supporters Tuesday at the Public and General restaurant. Poe beat three opponents to win his second term as mayor of Gainesville.