Last Friday at noon was the deadline, and six candidates, including the incumbent Mayor, will be on the City of Gainesville Election ballot this March 19th. It’s a pretty strong field with the Mayor, a couple of two-term former commissioners and one well-financed newcomer. It’s unlikely that someone will be able to get the 50% +1 needed to avoid a runoff.
In the race for campaign funds, the Mayor is far ahead with a little over $12K raised by the last reporting period. Right behind him with a little over $6K is Peter Lars Johnson. All others have either nothing or a negligible amount due to getting in late or having little support. Ed Braddy and Sherwin Henry have both run successful campaigns before and will raise respectable amounts.
I won’t try to predict the outcome of this race, but here are the various challenges as I see them, beginning with the Mayor. Not only does he have strong opponents, but at least two of them are from his own party and will be drawing from his pool of support. Sherwin Henry does not only have support from the black community, there are many Democrats who see him as a viable and acceptable option to a Mayor who has angered a big chunk of his base: environmentalists. Pete Johnson is a newcomer, and I’ve never heard of him, but last time around I was the one that no one had heard of, and I almost won. He has donors and he will probably be a respectable vote getter. However, his off-putting billboards of him with his dog in sunglasses put the aura of the eccentric on him. This is bad.
Ed Braddy is the only well-known conservative in the race, so he has the advantage of being able to keep his base intact. However, conservatives have been known to sit on their hands and do nothing if they have a problem with you. I don’t know how big a factor his DUI from a few years back will be, but you can count on the Gainesville Sun and Florida Alligator rehashing it during the campaign. He has a good chance of making the runoff because the Lowe-Henry-Johnson pie could be cut in such a way that keeps the Mayor’s numbers down.
The bottom of the field, Venzke and Shepherd, will not likely be factors. Mark Venzke, although a smart and likeable guy, runs as an eccentric. Yes, it’s loveable, but people don’t get behind loveable. Mr. Shepherd is an unknown who is not trying hard enough to NOT be unknown. I know some of you are thinking, “Don, you were an unknown. And some of us thought the idea of a window cleaner running for mayor was eccentric.” I hear you. But I did my best to play the role of a serious candidate. I acted like one, raised money like one, and I was already fairly well known, even in political circles. I got a few huge breaks and had some insanely good help. My volunteers made me a serious candidate.
In District 4, it should be Randy Wells in the first round. He beat the iconic Penny Wheat in the 2010 runoff, and now his biggest threat is the somewhat less iconic Mac MacEachern. Mac is an indefatigable opponent of the current City Hall regime, but his opponent is not as abrasive and rude as the Mayor. I could see split tickets in District 4: Henry for Mayor and Wells for District 4. Alfredo Espinosa is the third candidate in this race, and he’s a student. Students do badly in city elections historically.