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Friday, March 01, 2024

Alachua County Commission round-up: Alford wins District 1, Wheeler wins District 2 and Cornell wins District 4

Democrats sweep commission

Candidates Mary Alford, Marihelen Wheeler and Ken Cornell won the District 1, District 2 and DIstrict 4 County Commission races, respectively.

Democrat Mary Alford regained her Alachua County District 1 seat Tuesday from DeSantis-appointed Republican Raemi Eagle-Glenn, winning by 58.53% as of 9:38 p.m. with 63 of 64 precincts reporting.

Democrat Marihelen Wheeler held 57.56% of the vote as of 9:38 p.m. with 63 of 64 precincts reporting. She kept her District 2 County Commission seat, after beating Republican opponent Ed Braddy.

Incumbent Democrat Ken Cornell was re-elected as District 4 County Commissioner by 57.7% of the votes, as of 9:39 p.m with 63 of 64 precincts reporting. He won against his opponents Republican Van Elmore and non-party affiliate Anthony Johnson.

county commission win

District 1 County Commission winner: Mary Alford

Alford and Eagle-Glenn competed for the seat in the 2020 election; Alford secured 63% of the vote, filling the seat previously held by Mike Byerly.

Alford vacated the District 1 seat, which overlooks Micanopy and parts of Gainesville and Archer, May 16 after an investigation found her in violation of residency requirements. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Eagle-Glenn to replace her following her resignation.

Alford said she forgot to file a homestead exemption while she lived in District 4 to care for a relative; she filed to run for the seat immediately after purchasing a new house in District 1.

Alford graduated from UF with a master's degree in environmental engineering in 2001 and has 20 years of experience in working for a better environment through volunteering with state and local environmental groups and retaining knowledge in utilities, the built environment and related policies, she said.

Voters appreciate the attention she’s brought to roads by expanding the budget while on commission and including roads in Wild Spaces and Public Places, Alford said.

“To me, repairing roads is an environmental as well as fiscal issue,” she said. “They [voters] appreciated me bringing that perspective and hope that I bring that back.”

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Her knowledge as an environmental engineer has been an asset to making good environmental decisions for the county, especially with future threats of climate disruption and loss of water growth.

“One of my big goals is to make our county more resilient in the face of a lot of unknown issues coming out us in the future,” Alford said.

One of her long-term goals is to make residents feel more secure in knowing they have something they can eat from their own backyards, she said.  A short-term goal, she said, is for people to understand how to grow food to eat.

During her term, Alford launched a Plant of the Month Program, which educated residents on plants and gardening that they can apply to their daily lives.

“It's healthier, it's better for the environment, and it's just gratifying,” she said.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, Alford has also worked extensively to empower and encourage a safe environment.

She wrote a resolution and garnered commission support to condemn the bill that’s been dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, supported the Alachua County School Board in fight Tallahassee on those restrictions was aided the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida following a vandalism hate crime. Alford said she helped clean up and brought food to support the people who were there.

Alford has received endorsements from the Sierra Club, 314 Action, Equality Florida, Citizens for Active Transportation, Moms Demand Action and Planned Parenthood.

Alford was ahead of Eagle-Glenn in campaign finances with $16,000 in contributions and $10,000 in disbursements and Eagle-Glenn with $13,000 in contributions and $7,000 in disbursements, according to data from the Supervisor of Elections.

Both candidates’ top donors are individual contributors.

Eagle-Glenn works as a civil rights attorney at her independent law firm, Eagle Glenn Law, and is the Alachua Republicans State Committeewoman. The 42-year-old served as a precinct committeewoman. 

She advocates for election reform, freedom of speech and spoke out against pandemic lockdown measures, forced masking and forced vaccination.

Key issues promoted by Eagle-Glenn include First Amendment rights, including expanding public access to commision meetings and public safety. She wanted to expand police and firefighter presence and end the commission’s ban of social media comments from the public.

Eagle-Glenn will continue to serve the southern and predominantly rural region of Alachua County as District 1 County Commissioner. Her goals for District 1 focus on infrastructural renovations. She champions the development of parks, other recreational services and roadways.

Eagle-Glenn’s endorsements include Conservatism Counts, Conservation Leadership Committee and Sunshine State Conservatives.

District 2 County Commission winner: Marihelen Wheeler

Enjoying the company of supporters and loved ones, Wheeler took the stage at Heartwood, accepting her re-election as District 2 Alachua County Commissioner.“You got to watch out for us old grannies because I tell you what, we’re ready to do some outrageous things in the next four years,” she said on stage.

The win will usher in Wheeler’s final term as county commissioner.

Wheeler, 71, faced recent controversy after a lawsuit alleged she was living outside of District 2 during the primary elections. 

The concerns came after she was found claiming a tax break on a property she owned in District 4, according to a Gainesville Sun report. The lawsuit was dismissed Nov. 3.

Her platform focused on environmental and infrastructure issues, namely advocating for urban sprawl prevention. Wheeler said the experience gained from her first term will allow her to more effectively push policy.

“I’ve found people in the community too I can go to with thoughts and ideas, and possibilities for partnerships,” Wheeler said.

For supporters of Wheeler, that experience boosted their confidence.Miles Forziano, a 21-year-old UF psychology major and Wheeler supporter, said her previous term instilled his confidence in her success.

“I know that Wheeler’s had a good track record in the past,” Forziano said.

Her primary campaign contributions came from political organizations like North Central Florida Labor Coalition, Ruth’s List Florida, North Central Florida Central Labor Council and Alachua County Stonewall PAC. Individual donors made up the majority of her campaign revenue.

Braddy formerly served as a Gainesville city commissioner and mayor from 2013 to 2016. He was unseated in the 2016 race by Mayor Lauren Poe after he was found accepting money for strip club visits and hotel stays from former Gainesville police officer Jeff McAdams, according to a Gainesville Sun Report.

His platform centered around improving infrastructure issues, minimizing taxation and helping local business.

“We’re currently not allocating the amount necessary to see real improvements in our roads,” Braddy said.

Disrupting the Democratic majority was also his primary focus, Braddy said. He pushed for single-member districts in the commission, which would make voting for commissioners by district rather than at-large.

Braddy’s campaign contributions primarily came from businesses like Swamp Car Wash West, Stengel Field North LLC, David O’Steen Brothers and Kokomo Key Properties among others. 

He also received significant contributions from Good Government for Florida and the Alachua County Republican Party, which Braddy serves as chair of.

The 50-year-old ran unopposed for Republican nomination.

District 2 encompasses towns like Alachua and High Springs, which have poverty rates of 15.4% and 23.7% respectively, according to census data. Alachua and High Springs are both predominantly white areas as well.

For both those who did and didn’t support her, Wheeler hopes to meet and encourage growth across the county.

“I’m excited about going out into these communities,” Wheeler said.

District 4 County Commission winner: Ken Cornell

Cornell, a 53-year-old vice president of a realty firm, celebrated reelection for his third term at Heartwood Soundstage surrounded by friends and family.

“It's just been my highest honor to be able to serve the community that I was born and raised in and continue to live in,” Cornell said. 

The election for the District 4 seat was the only commission seat with three candidates. Cornell beat Elmore, a 53-year-old Republican, and Johnson, a 66-year-old non-party affiliate. This was both Elmore’s and Johnson’s first time running for office. 

The incumbent was previously elected to the Alachua County Commission in November 2014 and re-elected in 2018 unopposed. 

It’s better to have competition, though, Cornell said. 

Cornell serves on the Alachua County Children’s Trust, the Library District Governing Board, the Metropolitan Transportation and Planning Organization, The Florida Association of Counties Growth, Agriculture, Transportation and Environment Committee, among other appointments. 

Cornell wants to continue the work he has already started with addressing road maintenance issues, he said. Increasing funding for first responders and public safety personnel is another initiative he’d like to expand on. Every year he has been in his seat, funding has been raised for those groups, he said. 

Cornell also wants to focus on protecting the environment and preparing the community for the changes in climate coming, he said. 

“Hurricane Ian was a stark reminder that in addition to organic growth from outside of our state, we know that our community is going to be faced with growth within our state as people leave the coast and move inland,” Cornell said. 

Cornell collected $85,500 in contributions and $61,000 in disbursements, according to Supervisor of Elections data. In the 2018 election, he collected $33,000 in contributions and $32,000 in distributions. 

Mickenzie Hannon, Aidan Bush, Sophia Bailey, Luna Boales and Claire Grunewald contributed to this report. 

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