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Meet the City Commission candidates: Part 3

Left to right: David Arreola, Jennifer Reid

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Part 3 of a 3-part series covering the candidate forum. Part 1 can be found here, and Part 2 can be found 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. 

Left to right: Gabe Kaimowitz, Scherwin Henry, Paul Rhodenizer, Reina Saco

Question 5: Why should the members of the business community support your candidacy?

At Large Seat 2

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Gabe Kaimowitz said, “Obviously, my answer is that the business community should support Scherwin Henry… that will begin to change– make this the year that we can forget about Donald Trump, at least locally. Because if [Henry] prevails, I would hope that in the fall, for the first time in our history, a third African American on the five-member school board… I don’t want your votes… There is a crisis, and there has been since 1997, because when Commissioner Henry spoke before of the four plans, the first plan was in 1997, and you can look at that plan, and you won’t see an iota of difference… and I would add… the dirty pool on the CRA from day one. How can we even be talking about a built-up College Park with money that was intended for poor areas and areas that were run down?… They should have been concentrating on east Gainesville then.”

Scherwin Henry said the business community should support him because “I have always stated that the business community really is the economic backbone of the city of Gainesville. We are who we are because we have individuals that dream, they have a creative idea, they have the courage to seek financing, to bring that dream to fruition, and in doing that, they brought jobs that change the lives of families.” He said he was on the City Commission when the Butler Plaza project was being approved. “We had an individual who was willing to invest millions in our economy, and my colleagues were taking that business person through changes, as we sometimes do, about where the sidewalks should be or where the tree is, and that individual freely annexed her land into the City, which meant more ad valorem, which meant more benefits to the City, and I was the voice that articulated the purposes to why we should put our support behind that person. And now we, as a City, stick our chests out and we are proud of the final result. It takes courage to open a business. 

“It takes courage to walk the halls of City Hall, to Planning and the other entities that a person needs to open a business, and you need a commissioner that is open-minded, that will listen, that will also assist you with creative ideas.” 

Paul Rhodenizer said, “The members of the business community should support me because I’ve been there. I’ve met payroll… I’ve struggled. I know what it feels like to be a small business. It’s not easy.”

Reina Saco said, “I’d like you to support me because I do have the experience of working with the City Commission, at this point. The learning curve for me is greatly reduced from anybody else here because I’ve already been in the chamber, I’ve already been proposing things, I’ve  already worked with most of their departments to have change made. I won’t go in there completely dazed and wondering who are these people, who even manages what. I’ve been doing the work to help our city succeed for a while now, and this transition, I feel, would be the smoothest, and that helps… businesses who don’t want somebody who’s learning where the bathroom is, as I think Mayor Poe said once. You want somebody who knows how to get things done and who will be able to do that on day one. 

“But more than that, I like to think that I inherited a pretty decent work ethic from my parents. My parents came here with nothing; I was given shoes by the U.S. Army because I didn’t have any, and then we came here. And I saw my parents work three jobs, two jobs, and – I mean, that’s when I saw them, they were at work. But our neighbors worked, our neighbors built up from nothing, and a lot of them now, 25 years later, have small businesses… I respect everybody in this room who can put that forward, because I know it’s not easy. 

“I believe that small businesses are really what help a city thrive. I know small businesses want to give back to the community and to the neighborhood that they’re in, and I want to see that come to fruition… I do promise to work with you.”

District 2

Harvey Ward said the business community should support him “for the same reason that I would ask others to support me: because my door is open, I’m available to you… I’ve been there to answer your calls, I’ve learned how to work things through the City system. I’ve learned the difference between Wild Spaces Public Places money and CRA money – I’ve chaired the CRA… I have a vision for what we need to continue to do. We’ve talked about parks—I’ve been a driving force behind getting a number of parks rebuilt, re-thought, and worked through that process… I’m working with communities in northwest Gainesville that have aging septic systems that need to be connected to GRU wastewater, and that, if they aren’t connected, we’re going to have a problem with it at some point over the next decade, as they fail and flow into the creek system. Those are legacy projects that have come to us, and they’re real. They’re things that affect the business community and everybody else… I’ve worked with so many of you in this room and hundreds of others to solve problems that are real to the people of Gainesville.”

David Walle said, “It’s always nice when my opponent can make my case for me… this Commission is one-dimensional. I offer a breadth of experience from a number of different life experiences, work-wise, and specifically, let’s talk about… business and employment. For me, in my previous business, there was no greater honor than to be able to hire people and help put people to work, whether they were interns that were working their way through school… whether it be those persons who needed those hours, needed that cash to help make a living. That’s a hell of an honor when a business can expand and hire those people.

“So when I’m thinking in business, I’m frequently thinking of employers, I’m thinking about economic development, economic expansion. I understand business. One of the specific points why the business community, and frankly, Gainesville as a whole, ought to support me for District 2, is because while my opponent is focused on the septic tanks that ought to be on Gainesville sewage—I agree, but it’s a lower priority. See, my priority is the aging pipes that run along the creek, that are aging. And when they break, we’ve literally got new stories you can look up in the headlines: millions of gallons of raw sewage into the creek… Let’s put priorities in perspective. Let’s think through the policies we put in effect. My opponent has suggested that he supports a $15/hour minimum wage for everybody in the City and all the subcontractors and wants the University of Florida to do the same. In today’s marketplace of limited labor, I can understand that.” But Walle said that $15/hour for employees actually costs at least $20/hour to employers, “and it will impact every employer.”

District 3

David Arreola said he’s worked to build bridges with the business community during his term on the City Commission. His work experience was initially in the private sector: he worked for a law firm out of college and then for a startup company. He also has an MBA: “I’d like to think that formal education counts for something.” He said he wanted to give an example of how he’s worked with the business community. “Double Envelope Company—their whole industry has been disrupted by social media and things that are online. So they are in a tough place to have to compete, and so they came to us, saying that they had issues and how could we provide them relief, and so we set an Enterprise Zone in that area to help allow manufacturers like that to access a lower commercial rate from GRU, among other things, such as grants that are available and things of that nature. 

“We’ve also made some big, hard decisions on the City Commission. It wasn’t a popular decision when we decided to buy out the GREC [biomass] plant. But when we did—and you can imagine how unpopular it was because when that contract was first signed, I was not even graduated from high school yet. So having solved that issue in my first year on the Commission was a tough decision. But we did the right thing because we put those savings immediately into rate relief, and the commercial side saw huge savings on that, as well.” He said he works with startup companies that need help navigating the City bureaucracy.

Jennifer Reid said this forum, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, builders, and realtors may be the most important one for the future of Gainesville. “As business owners, realtors, builders, the future of Gainesville is critical to you and to your family… the same is true for me… I’m involved in the School Board, I’m a Guardian ad Litem, I volunteer, so the future for our children is very important to me, and I am running just because I believe that we have the opportunity now, with this election, to create a better future for all of us. 

“I’m not running to make us a bigger, better, prettier city. I’m running for us to be a community. … I don’t think I’ve ever seen us more divided than we are now. I think it’s an issue that citizens don’t feel heard or listened to… It’s not about electing a new City Commissioner—that’s just a fancy title… it’s just an opportunity for us to have a new look, a new opportunity for a new future.”

Left to right: Moderator Gia Arvin, Gabe Kaimowitz, Scherwin Henry

Closing Remarks: Each candidate got 2 minutes to speak.

District 3

Jennifer Reid said she’s fighting to make community a priority. “We tend to… complain when we don’t like something instead of actually getting up and fighting for it. Well, I’ve been complaining for a while, and I decided that I was no longer going to complain; I’m just going to fight, and that is why I’m here. I’m here to fight for all of you, fight for all those complaints that you have, that you want to see changed; that’s what I’m running for… I’m here to be a voice for all… David’s a great guy, absolutely, but we’ve been hearing the same thing for the past 3 years, and I think that right now is the time for us to actually do something about it and make Gainesville a priority and the citizens a priority.”

David Arreola said, “Serving as your City Commissioner for the last 2 years and some change has been the honor of my life… I’m running again because there’s unfinished work and because I want to see us get things done. The things that had not been accomplished when I joined the Commission—many: Our police union did not have a contract; they have one now. The firefighters were also without a contract; they have one now. Amalgamated Transit Union, they also passed a new contract…

“I don’t pretend as though I have all the solutions, but there are things I want to see us invest in: I do want to see us get a 10-year projection plan for how to spend that Gainesville CRA money. I do want to see us expand the First Mile Last Mile shuttle program in southeast Gainesville to District 3 and other areas of the city. I want to make sure that we’re dealing with the issue of violence in the city; we had a General Policy Committee meeting earlier today where we talked about how we can have preventative violence task forces and really promote community training to help us deal with that issue. This is all about the people of Gainesville… It is not an easy thing to try and make a new city out of a city that’s been so divided for so long along the lines of those who are doing well and those who are struggling.”

District 2

David Walle said, “I love this town… I’m heavily invested here with my heart, with my soul… The fact is… the City Commission, as it stands today, is a one-dimensional City Commission. Here’s why: My opponent sees $15/hour as $15/hour. I see $20/hour because people who are in business… we understand payroll taxes, we understand Worker’s Comp, and if we have any benefits on top of that, there’s more to be spent. I’m not against spending that money—it’s my own business, I want the best people working with me, but to say that’s going to be the threshold minimum for summer interns, for high schoolers that have absolutely no work experience, working perhaps over at the MLK pool, that’s just absurd. 

“The idea, building on Commissioner Arreola’s remarks about Double Envelope, the reality is that when the business climate is so difficult in Gainesville… they had to change the utility rates, they had to change the rules for playing the game, because Double Envelope employs so many people. I’m glad Double Envelope’s still here, don’t get me wrong, but my point is this: Why do we have to change the rules to retain an employer? Why do we have to change the rules when we’re trying to recruit employers to come into town? We’ve got a fantastic way of life; if we could treat all existing businesses in this community with the same sort of treatment, business would thrive.”

Harvey Ward said, “The City of Gainesville, GRU, spends about $9.5 million a year—in this budget year—to proactively replace sewer pipes. That’s gone up about 20% since I’ve been on the Commission. We also have a program, 3-year study, to make sure that we’re replacing the right ones, to know which ones are closest to failing. We’re working on that really hard because that infrastructure matters. 

“But you have to actually show up and be a part of the conversation to know that we’re spending $9.5 million already. I’m not sure how much we ought to be spending or how much we ought to raise taxes to do that, but that’s where we are right now. I’d be happy to walk you through the process any time you’d like. It is important to show up. Showing up is important. Being there to talk to folks when they call. Being at the meetings. When you want to be a City Commissioner, I feel like you ought to show up at the meetings every now and then and be a part of what’s going on. That’s a base level sort of thing for any job.” He said his connection with the community is reflected is how people respond to his campaign. He has more than 200 donors, people from “every level of the community.”

At Large Seat 2

Reina Saco said, “I’m not a native of Gainesville, but I love it so much that I bought a home—I actually bought my second home, so I moved out and got a better one. This is going to be my home forever… I bring experience to the Commission that my opponents do not have at the moment; I bring skills that the current Commission does not have at their disposal, it’s a different way of thinking, a different perception of what needs are. 

“I want to focus on holistic and creative solutions for housing… there is no one solution to any problem, especially housing, because it’s so different, depending on the person and the family. I think we should invest in community safety, and that should include public transportation, that should include lighting, that should include sidewalks so that mothers with strollers, so that elders or people who have a disability can use their wheelchair or their scooter on our sidewalks, that people aren’t forced to jaywalk and possibly get injured on the street.

“I think that we should hire local labor, that we should contract local businesses, that our City money should be reinvested right here in this community and not find someone else from a giant state company, that we should focus on the people who have talent and abilities here. 

“I think that our city should be accessible, and that means more than a ramp. That means that our City Hall goes out into the city and talks to people… Rather than tell people you should come to City Hall and tell me about it, City Hall should go out and meet with these people who are so invested that they spend their free time dealing with the issue.” She listed some of her endorsements: Sierra Club, Central Labor Council, the Stonewall Democrats, the Human Rights Council, GPAC.

Paul Rhodenizer said, “Diversity needs to be more than just about race, gender, and religion. We need diversity of ideas on our City Commission, and believe I am the best candidate for the job. As your commissioner, I will work on… making Gainesville a safer and more affordable place to live. I love our city, and I want more local businesses to survive and thrive. The struggle for small businesses in our community is so compounded by fees, taxes, and utility bills that it appears only the giant franchises and out-of-town developers can survive. In my first term in office, it will look like small businesses will finally get a break to do what they do best. As your commissioner, I’ll do my due diligence, research issues, and make the best possible decisions based on hard data. I promise to do three things: to listen to the citizens, to work hard, and do my best.”

Scherwin Henry said, “I heard safety, lighting, sidewalks, neighborhoods, and it seems as though—there seems to be an inference there that experience doesn’t matter. But experience matters, folks. I’ve served 2 terms on the Gainesville City Commission, won both elections by 68%. Talking about safety, talking about lighting, sidewalks, neighborhoods… we have been doing that for years, through our CRA funding… we went in and transformed different areas of Gainesville, southwest Gainesville, east Gainesville as well. Talking about going out into the neighborhoods, talking to the citizens… I initiated the neighborhood meetings where we would hold a City Commission meeting in the neighborhoods. So the ideas that you’re hearing aren’t new, and a lot of things that City Commissioners do, they actually carry on what was started for them.

“I’ve heard about humble beginnings. I’m from a family of 6; I used to go with my mom at night when she had to work her second job. I am a black man, living in America… and the system tried to make me feel like I could not achieve. I’m a graduate of UF, I have a 40-year career as a Senior Biological Scientist. I have served this community for over 20 years; currently I’m on the Charter Review Commission, the only unanimous vote by the present [City] Commission. I was on the CRA East Side Advisory Board for 6 years. We are about to break ground on the Heartwood development for 33 homes, 11 of them are for affordable and workforce housing. As an ex-City Commissioner, I have not sat and done nothing. I have continued to serve this community.”

Gabe Kaimowitz spoke about his efforts to reinstate Gainesville’s status as a Butterfly City.

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