Harvey Ward and Edward “Ed” Bielarski lead the mayoral race and are likely to face off in a run-off election for Gainesville mayor in November after pulling ahead of their opponents in the crowded nine-person pack.
Gainesville’s primary election will determine the city’s mayor if a candidate receives the majority of the votes cast. Because Ward and Bielarski didn’t secure at least 50% of votes as of midnight Wednesday, they will compete in a runoff for the general election slated for Nov. 8.
Ward, who previously served as the District 2 commissioner since 2017, received 27.94% of the votes and over 300 more votes than Bielarski, a former Gainesville Regional Utilities general manager. Bielarski secured 26.47% of the votes as of midnight Wednesday. David Arreola, who served as the District 3 commissioner since 2017, earned 15.36% of the vote. The other candidates in the mayoral race — Ansaun Fisher, Gary Gordon, Gabriel Hillel, Adam Rosenthal, Donald Shepherd and July Thomas — received 30.23% of the vote in total.
One candidate will replace Lauren Poe, who previously held the seat since 2018 but reached his term limit this year.
Ward plans to spend the next few months knocking on residents’ doors in preparation for the run-off election.
Residents first elected Ward to the commission in 2017 and re-elected him in 2020.
He grew up and attended schools in East Gainesville. He later attended Santa Fe College and UF, where he received a bachelor's degree in public relations.
Ward received about $45,000 in campaign donations, according to Voter Focus. Donations came from sources such as UF’s former first lady Chris Machen and County Commissioners Anna Prizzia and Ken Cornell.
Ward said he’s excited to build public trust, increase pedestrian safety, implement affordable renewable energy and focus on the arts community.
“It's really important that the community come along with the Commission,” he said. “We need to make sure that we are listening to the people.”
During his time on the commission, he fought for the removal of transit fares for youth and senior residents, worked with the Florida Department of Transportation to improve traffic safety and helped allocate $8 million of American Rescue Plan funds to affordable housing.
His campaign focuses on local responses to improve the national affordable housing crisis and for the city to use 100% renewable energy by 2045.
Ann Grooms, an 81-year-old Gainesville resident of 45 years, voted for Ward.
“Harvey is someone that is much more receptive to the community needs,” she said.
Edward “Ed” Bielarski knocked on 13,000 doors, walked more than 400 miles and went through three pairs of shoes. His efforts paid off as he’s headed to a run-off against Harvey Ward.
The 65-year-old former GRU general manager launched his mayoral campaign in January after the City Commission terminated his contract. He has he has never held a position in politics.
Bierlarski came to grips with the idea of a run-off for the first time Tuesday night, he said, although he’s still excited to go up against Ward on Nov. 8.
“I’m happy that my message seemed to resonate enough that I got to that run-off,” Bielarski said.
Armando Grundy-Gomes, a 43-year-old Gainesville resident who attended Bielarski’s intimate watch party at Ballyhoo Grill, said one of the biggest differences between Ward and Bielarski was their history in promoting diversity.
“I’ve watched the record of diversity that he has at GRU,” Grundy-Gomes said. “He has given opportunities to people that look different than him.”
He believes Bielarski is the right person to the fix Gainesville’s financial woes.
Bielarski was involved in the city’s purchase of the $750 million biomass plant, which produces renewable energy for city use. Bielarski said he helped negotiate the price of the plant from about $2 billion down to the price the city bought it for, saving Gainesville nearly $1 billion.
He received about $35,000 in donations, according to Voter Focus. Top donations came from attorney Seldon Childers, developer Nathan Collier and retired UF economics professor David Denslow.
Two of his biggest goals as mayor will be to reduce the amount of money the commission takes from GRU and move away from the elimination of single-family zoning.
“The reality is, you’re ending the ability for somebody to make a choice to live in a single-family neighborhood,” he said.
He wants the city to be able to fix issues like potholes and provide clean water and affordable power. He wants to make the city into a place where people want to live and give them the option to start a family.
Bielarski has been tabbed a conservative mayoral candidate due to factors such as accepting PAC money from Republican State Sen. Keith Perry. However, Bielarski has no party affiliation and received donations and endorsements from Democrats as well.
David Arreola, 31, became the youngest Gainesville city commissioner ever when he was elected as the District 3 City Commissioner at age 26. He hoped to become the first-ever Hispanic mayor in Gainesville and help the city in which he was born and raised.
His efforts are likely to fall short as Ward and Bielarski pull ahead Tuesday night in the run-off.
Arreola declined to comment through his campaign manager, Patrick Miller, who said they’re proud of the work they put in.
Miller specifically pointed to the team’s efforts in trying to build a city that addresses the housing and climate crises as strengths of the campaign.
“We did a great job of advocating for building one Gainesville that I think captures the great values of our city,” Miller said.
He saw more than $30,000 in contributions, including from the Latino Victory Fund, Florida Young Democrats and multiple members of UF faculty since December.
Arreola said he knows the mayor’s responsibilities are unique and said he has experience in those areas. He was elected as mayor pro tempore twice, which he said is uncommon, and spent two and a half total years in the role.
He voted to approve zoning and occupancy changes as a way to help solve Gainesville’s affordable housing crisis. The 4-3 vote will eliminate exclusionary zoning, amend occupancy and bedroom limits and allow developers to build two-story multifamily units in residential areas.
At the root of his passion for the city is what it means to him. He was born and raised in Gainesville, and he saw the city “transform from a sleepy college town to a bustling university city.”
“I'm excited about our potential but that potential means very little if it's only accessible to the wealthy and privileged few,” Arreola said.
Mickenzie is the local elections reporter and previously covered city and county commission for The Alligator’s Metro Desk. She's a fourth-year journalism major and is specializing in data journalism. When Mickenzie isn’t writing, she enjoys watching horror movies, reading, playing with her pets and attending concerts.
Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.
Kyle Bumpers is a fourth-year journalism major and the sports editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he cries about Russell Wilson and writes an outrageous amount of movie reviews on Letterboxd.