To the newly inducted mayor, Harvey Ward, Gainesville is a place of enchantment — a city of diversity and duality.
“We are dozens of cities,” Ward said. “We are old money, and we are generational poverty. We are PHDs, and we are functionally illiterate. We are symphony and ballet, and we are tailgating. We are gardenia, and we are featherwood.”
He hopes to use his position to maintain and grow the city for others, he said.
The city of Gainesville held its swearing-in ceremony Thursday morning, officially inducting Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward and three commissioners into office.
About 200 people attended the ceremony at the Historic Thomas Center Gardens before the first Gainesville City Commission meeting of 2023. The ceremony marked the beginning of the four-year terms of Mayor Ward and Commissioners Ed Book, Casey Willits and Bryan Eastman.
The ceremony began with an invocation by Father Fletcher Montgomery from the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
Commissioner Book, of District 2, was the first to be sworn in by Judge Walter M. Green.
He thanked Judge Green, his long-time friend Bishop Chris Stokes, and his wife of 37 years, Lori, before detailing the goals for his term. Book plans to focus on civility, budget accountability, helping vulnerable neighbors and supporting city workers, he said.
“Community priorities are my priority,” he said.
Book also encouraged people to hold him and other commissioners accountable. He intends to be extremely responsible and extremely responsive to people’s concerns, he said.
“My phone number hasn’t changed in 20-something years,” Book said. “And it’s not gonna change merely because I happen to be sitting at that lengthy city desk at City Hall.”
Following Book’s address, Judge Craig C. DeThomasis administered the oath of office to Commissioner Willits, who will serve District 3.
In his speech, Willits spoke on the platform of pedestrian safety, housing and student activism.
“Gainesville belongs to all of us,” Willits said.
He hopes to create a space where all neighbors can recognize self government is for everyone, and the community can build something permanent together, he said.
As a member of the LGBTQ community, Willits recognized he could experience violence for his beliefs and actions. However, he emphasized the importance of speaking up against those who sought to silence the voices of others.
“I am excited and terrified,” Willits said. “This is a big job, a lot of responsibility. I just have to jump in. That’s the way it works.”
Commissioner Eastman, who’ll serve District 4, was then sworn in by Judge DeThomasis.
Eastman shared stories of friends and neighbors who struggled with some of the issues other commissioners mentioned like road safety and homelessness.
“There’s a lot of commonalities,” he said. “There’s certainly ways we can begin to move forward and start working on those issues.”
It feels great to be in a place where he can work toward creating a city where his 2-year-old daughter, Avani, can walk or ride her bike without him being in fear, Eastman said.
Half of Gainesville’s Commission is new, and Eastman’s looking forward to collaborating with all the commissioners and with the community to improve people’s lives, he said.
Ward defeated Ed Bielarski, the former general manager of Gainesville Regional Utilities in a November runoff election
In his speech, he thanked his family, neighbors, donors to his campaign and others before addressing several priorities other commissioners discussed such as homelessness, pedestrian safety and gun violence.
He closed his speech by encouraging unity across the community, stating that Gainesville is not a “Tale of Two Cities,” referring to disparities between East and West Gainesville.
Following Ward’s speech, he made a motion to appoint the new mayor pro tem, District 1 Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker. In the case of Ward’s absence, Duncan-Walker will serve as the temporary mayor.
Ward’s also planning on creating a priority list that will be sent out that better details the work he and the commissioners will focus on as they begin their terms, he said.
“We are one city,” Ward said. “One Gainesville.”
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Aubrey Bocalan is a third-year journalism major. She is also pursuing a double major in Art. When she isn't writing, she's probably watching TV with her dog, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore Bocalan.