The Cypress & Grove watch party was abuzz with activity as Alachua County residents anxiously awaited the primary election results.
Incumbent Marihelen Wheeler won the Democratic nomination and will face off against Republican candidate Ed Braddy for the District 2 Alachua County Commission seat in November.
Wheeler won by about 45 percentage points, collecting more than 72% of the vote excluding mail-in ballots against Charlie Ray Jackson, a U.S. Army veteran and former Alachua County facilities director, as of midnight Wednesday. This win puts her on the pathway to another term as a county commissioner.
“I just wanted one more good term to finish up some of the work that we started and some of the projects that we’ve got going before I finally retire,” Wheeler said.
The Alligator contacted Jackson multiple times for comment, but he did not respond.
Jackson served as the county’s facilities director, where he implemented Alachua County’s energy reduction and water conservation program.
He was fired Feb. 11 following allegations of discriminatory hiring practices, according to a Gainesville Sun report. The investigation claimed Jackson falsified documents and engaged in racial discrimination, reportedly favoring some employees over others.
On the other side of the aisle, 50-year-old Braddy ran unopposed for the Republican nomination and will compete against Wheeler for the District 2 seat leading up to Election Day Nov. 8.
Candidates for the District 1 seat Democrat Mary Alford and Republican Raemi Eagle-Glenn, as well as candidates for District 4 Democrat Ken Cornell, Republican James Van Elmore and no-party affiliated Anthony Johnson, will also compete head-to-head in the general election.
The 71-year-old is a retired public school educator and co-owner of The Gestalt Center of Gainesville, a non-profit organization dedicated to a psychotherapeutic approach to therapy pioneered by Fritz Perls. She is the current chair of the Alachua County Commission, having been appointed in 2021.
Over the course of her campaign, Wheeler accrued endorsements from local organizations such as the North Central Florida Central Labor Council, the Stonewall Democrats of Alachua County, the Sierra Club, the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus and the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida.
District 2 has a population of about 55,800 people, according to 2020 census data, and is made up of High Springs, Alachua and Wade along with parts of Newberry and Hasan.
Wheeler’s residency was called into question in May after records indicated she did not live in the district she represented. However, she said she met all legal requirements at the time.
This questioning followed resignations from former County Commissioner Mary Alford in May and former Alachua County School Board member Diyonne McGraw last year. Both were removed from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis for living outside their districts.
While she said her first term allowed for understanding the “lay of the land” of any new job and the start of numerous projects, Wheeler said she hopes her second term provides the spark needed to finish them.
As an environmental activist and former teacher, she focuses many of these pursuits on ecological preservation and education, she said.
Wheeler transferred ownership of the Santa Fe Canoe Outpost to the city of High Springs in 2021, aiding in the preservation of the Santa Fe River’s many ecosystems. She also led the purchase and renovation of the former Camp McConnell on Southeast 134th Avenue into a community and environmental center.
“We are working on the event center that we are hoping to get up and market it so that it is a tourist attraction that will help support our own community,” Wheeler said.
Following the loss of her son to substance abuse in 2003, Wheeler helped establish the Central Receiving Facility, which she said will treat people struggling with a mental health or addiction crisis.
Keeping her young voter base in mind, she said addressing mental health has never been more important.
“We know that there are drug issues that are rampant in the country,” she said. “With the change and work ethic after COVID, the world is a different place that we’re looking at.”
Her experience as a public school educator compelled her to dedicate resources to young adults who had been failed by the school system, she said. She intends to help these former students find their place in society.
“They weren’t going to college, we didn’t give them a trade, we didn’t give them the confidence to go out and open their own business or work with other people to do that.”
Ed Braddy is familiar with Alachua County politics — previously serving two terms as city commissioner from 2002 to 2008 and as Gainesville mayor from 2013 to 2016.
He was unseated in 2016 by Mayor Lauren Poe. During the same year, the Florida Ethics Commission found probable cause that Braddy solicited gifts from a lobbyist, including hotel stays and visits to a strip club, to potentially influence his vote, official action or other type of judgment.
During his time as mayor, Braddy helped to launch Gainesville’s Freedom in Motion initiative, a partnership with Uber that allows senior citizens discounted transportation. He also helped create the Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee on Economic Competitiveness, a group dedicated to improving Gainesville's business opportunities.
As a High Springs resident, Braddy said he understands the inner workings of District 2 and will represent its residents fairly if elected Nov. 8.
“I think the people who do live outside Gainesville feel largely neglected by the current Alachua County Commission,” he said.
This has motivated him to make them more of a focus in his campaign platform.
Generating funding to address deteriorating roads will also be a priority during his first term, he said.
“It’s not an accident that our roads are in just miserable condition relative to other counties all around the state,” he said.
Funding to fix these roadways would come from general funding instead of new taxes imposed on citizens, Braddy said. He opposes the Infrastructure Sales Tax amendment on the primary ballot, which adds an additional half-cent tax to the existing Wild Spaces Public Places half-cent sales tax.
Aidan Bush contributed to this report.
Contact Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @rylan_digirapp.
Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp is a first-year Journalism major and a Metro News Assistant for The Alligator. You'll usually find her reading, watching movies and searching for creative ways to be more environmentally friendly. She loves going on spontaneous adventures and grabbing boba/coffee with friends.