Meet the City Commission candidates: Part 1
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
Part 1 of a 3-part series covering the candidate forum. Part 2 is here, and Part 3 is here. The election is March 17.
The Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, the Gainesville Alachua County Association of Realtors, and the Builders’ Association of North Central Florida hosted a Gainesville City Commission Candidate Forum on February 13 at Scorpio Construction.
All of the candidates for District 2, District 3, and At Large Seat 2 were at the forum, and it was hosted by Gia Arvin.
OPENING STATEMENT: Each candidate had the opportunity to give an opening statement.
At Large Seat 2
Gabe Kaimowitz said that his perspective was different from the others: “If Scherwin Henry loses, there’s only one reason: the color of his skin.” He also said he’s trying to make Gainesville a Butterfly City again.
Scherwin Henry said he’s been married to his high school sweetheart for 48 years, and they have two grown children. Their son is a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy, and their daughter is an accountant at UF. He is a former Gainesville City Commissioner in District 1. He said, “My campaign is to move Gainesville forward, to increase the housing stock… and also to expand the economy.”
Paul Rhodenizer said he’s a former local business owner of 25 years. He graduated from UF in 1972 with a degree in business management, married his wife, and raised his family here. He said, “I decided to run because citizens need to be heard and considered more, not this mess as has happened in recent years. City Commissioners have created excessive costs that every working and retired property owner is forced to pay. The net effect of their actions is that the cost of utilities, taxes, and fees has outpaced housing costs and is beyond affordable for many working families. Everywhere we go, there seems to be more and more high rises and overcrowded streets, many adjacent to single-family neighborhoods. We must do better, and that’s why I’m running.”
Reina Saco said, “I’m running… because I’ve already been doing a lot of the work that our city and county needs.” She said she came to the U.S. from Cuba through a refugee camp in Panama. “I know what it’s like to struggle in a country that has so much, and I know what it’s like to not get help when you desperately need it.” She is a civil rights attorney who has worked in housing issues, with survivors of domestic violence, and in immigrant communities with access issues and civil rights issues regarding language and the police force. “I’ve been out there getting my hands dirty the last 2 years, and even before that, when I was a student with very little to offer, I was out at GRACE Marketplace, I was at the Veteran Homeless Stand Down, I’ve been doing the work.” She said she’s running because there is a lot of potential for good in our local government when it becomes accessible to everyone. She said City Hall should go out into the community instead of making people come to City Hall.
Harvey Ward is the current District 2 City Commissioner. He said he’s spent his whole life here and that he and his wife are raising 3 young daughters. “We think it’s a pretty great place to be. I feel like we have a responsibility to continue to keep it a good place to be… I believe that every person of every age in our community deserves great parks and public spaces, clean, abundant water, and open, transparent government that they can trust… Those are the things I will continue to work on if you choose to keep me on board.”
David Walle said he’s been here nearly 37 years and has a couple kids born and raised here and a couple of granddaughters. “I’ve done enough complaining about local government over the years, why not do something about it?” He said he has served on the County Economic Development Advisory Committee and with various nonprofits and charitable organizations in the community. “Success is a collaborative effort, and I want all of us to be able to work together.”
David Arreola is the current District 3 City Commissioner. He said his parents immigrated from Mexico to UF as graduate students, and he was born and raised in Gainesville. “This city has given them the American dream, and I’m giving back to the city that I felt welcomed my family with open arms.” He said he’s running for a second term because there is unfinished work on the City Commission. He said there are a lot of great projects going on in the city, but it takes leadership to make things happen. As an example, he said they’ve got $72 million in Gainesville Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) money that can now be invested anywhere in the original CRA. “One thing I’m proposing is more job training in the east side of Gainesville. Not just career and tech training, but space where kids can come after school and get engrossed in the arts and technology training, because that’s the future.”
Jennifer Reid said she’s a Gainesville native, “born and raised Gator.” She is a realtor at Team Dynamo. She is active in the PTA, Guardian Ad Litem, School Advisory Council, and a member of the City of Gainesville’s Citizens Advisory Committee for Community Development. She has two boys, ages 9 and 5, and she recently got engaged to an officer with the Gainesville Police Department. “I am running because I’ve always told my boys, ‘If you believe in something so much, you fight for it,’ and I believe in our community… I believe the future for our children needs to be better than what I see… today. My platform is very simple: I’m running for affordability and accountability. I believe that the citizens of Gainesville need to be a priority, and uniting our community needs to be a priority.”
QUESTION 1: What do you perceive are the three most immediate concerns facing the City of Gainesville, and what would be your top priorities if elected?
At Large Seat 2
Gabe Kaimowitz said he is totally in support of Scherwin Henry. He mentioned the difficulties of getting an accurate census count. “The reason you won’t find people is they’re on the east side. They’re in the immigrant community.” He said his priorities, which he hoped were the same as Henry’s, were to figure out how to do something about the east side “or give up on it.” His second priority is to get freedom of speech back on the commission. “What Mayor Poe has done is choked any contradictory views that can possibly be expressed. Watch him sometime.” His third priority would be exchanges between the two communities. “I have a suspicion that if we look closely enough, we’ll find that there’s unlawful steerage by many realtors in this town, that nobody recommends housing on the east side when you’re on campus. The other constituency I’m trying to reach is students.”
Scherwin Henry said it is very important to expand our economy. “We need [job training], but if we have job training and no jobs, have we really achieved the purpose? Also, we’ve been lamenting about what’s happening in west Gainesville, and I firmly believe that we need to take the energy that we’re putting into lamenting what’s happening in west Gainesville and turn it east.” He said Gainesville is a city of missed opportunities and that downtown is an excellent place to start. “There’s a lot of empathy toward east Gainesville, but year after year, decade after decade, east Gainesville is only given lip service.” He said it’s time to create a vision for the redevelopment of downtown and east Gainesville, along with the Airport Industrial Park. “We have to have a constant and perpetual funding source for housing. I propose creating a Housing Trust. With a Housing Trust, you can and you will have a perpetual and constant funding source for workforce housing as well as housing for seniors—we can’t forget them.” He said it’s important to have partnerships, citing the goal of getting 3rd graders to read at grade level within 5 years, “but it actually starts at the preschool as well… it can be done. We just have to have the political fortitude and will to do it.”
Paul Rhodenizer said he got involved because citizens aren’t being listened to at City Commission meetings. “If the City Commission will listen more—we’ve had good suggestions being made by the citizens, and they’re just being discouraged from participating in the process… I’d like to see a City Commission that’s more open, more transparent, and encourage people to come to Commission meetings.”
Reina Saco said housing is her biggest concern. “I’m a big proponent of there’s no one solution to housing… We need construction of affordable housing for people who want to buy. We need safe, affordable rental housing for people who have no interest in buying or just can’t right now or are transient. We need housing to be safe. We need housing vouchers to be accepted. We need property owners to not have taxes that are so high.” She said she would work with developers: “They are not the enemy.” She is an advocate of mixed neighborhoods and complete neighborhoods that serve the purpose of the whole neighborhood but also “profit the community and the developer as one team. My second biggest concern is community safety, so that means funding [Gainesville Fire Rescue] and [Gainesville Police Department (GPD)]… that also involves making sure our sidewalks are whole, our streets are whole, that we have lighting next to our bus stops… My last one would just be smart investment… Development can be good, investment can be smart, but you have to work with the community.”
Harvey Ward said his list changes from day to day, depending on what he’s working on. “Today I would say the three greatest challenges facing our community are legislative overreach… the list of legislative preemptions, things that municipalities and counties aren’t allowed to make decisions on locally, is long enough that the Florida League of Cities can’t keep up with it… It concerns me that our legislative bodies seem to want to be mayors more than they want to be legislators… Equity is an enormous challenge. Every day equity is on the list.” He said equity is not always an east/west thing. He cited Pine Ridge, off 34th Street, as an example: Pine Ridge “is very affordable, but it’s affordable for a reason. It’s hard to grow up in Pine Ridge. It’s hard to be an older person in Pine Ridge… It’s been a problem… for 30 years, but we’re about to make some headway on it. We’ve got some new programs with GPD, with code enforcement, and with frankly just talking to people who live there and their landlords about how we might be able to solve some of these problems.” His third priority is trust. “It’s one that we’re going to have a hard time solving until we all want to solve it. As long as there are political points to be scored by attacking trust in government, we’re going to have a hard time getting there.”
David Walle said his three top issues are infrastructure, affordable housing, and homelessness. “Even though we have our issues now with limited supply, with greater demand, we’ve also got issues concerning regulation—talk to some folks from the Builders’ Association about how much that adds to the cost of housing… With regard to homelessness, there are a number of things we ought to be doing… there’s a lot to be said for respecting an individual’s civil rights, and there’s also a lot to be said about respecting our fellow neighbors.” He said that panhandlers can be perceived as threatening, particularly for the elderly. “In the interest of compassion, we do give… panhandlers… the ability to set up shop in the middle of a median, right to the point that it gets them killed, as recently as a couple of months ago, right there on 16th Blvd… I don’t need to check my notes to find out whether this is an important issue regarding trust and the competence to handle this type of issue.”
David Arreola said the City of Gainesville has “made the people of Gainesville our purpose.” The first issue on his list is investing in impoverished areas. “The issue in Gainesville has always been the divide between those who are wealthy and those who are living paycheck to paycheck… You look at any chart that shows job growth in Gainesville, economic output, it’s all growing up. But if we want to be the city we truly deserve to be, we need to be sure that we are lifting up everyone who is struggling.” He said the United Way released a report that said over 50% of the people in Gainesville live paycheck to paycheck. “That is unacceptable, and the way that we address that is by investing in the areas that haven’t seen investment in the past… Job training can be catered towards in-demand careers… We don’t need to look at people who are struggling as giving hand-outs—no, these people are assets!… The second thing is how do you get around in Gainesville? We’ve got some new transit ideas. We’ve been operating this pilot program in southeast Gainesville, which solves the first-mile, last-mile problem… this shuttle will go and pick people up, take them to their nearest transfer station, we can have that city-wide. But it’s going to take time, leadership, and… investment… A lot of times… you’re forced to solve problems that you inherited from 10 years ago, and in 10 years, the worst effects of climate change are starting to visit this state…. We’re going to want to look back and say we saw that coming and planned for it. We need a climate resiliency plan.”
Jennifer Reid said her three concerns are affordability, accountability, and unity. “There’s no silver bullet for [affordable housing]. It’s not just affordable housing—it’s those teachers, those police officers, those firefighters that protect our city, they teach our students, but they have to live outside the city limits because they can no longer afford it… No one’s done anything about [unity]…. Before we talk about buses that drive themselves, we need to talk about the east side of Gainesville because they’ve been waiting for a very long time. Why are we getting self-driving buses but they can’t get a Publix or a Dollar General? All those things that they’re asking for, that needs to be a priority. Accountability: the citizens of Gainesville are just asking to be respected, to be valued, to be listened to, and we’re not getting that. They’re going to meetings… it’s going in one ear and out the other… Listen to them, that’s all they want.”