It was a rough night for Mayor Craig Lowe at the Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus forum, and he didn’t even have to be there. The Mayor notified the organizers at the last minute that he had a “family emergency” and that he could not attend. Moderator Charles Gosten and the rest of the crowd were not mollified. Gosten complained openly about the Mayor’s lack of communication in the three weeks leading up to the forum. Furthermore, there was no surrogate sent to stand in for the Mayor, and the touchy issue of the Mayor’s paid assistant, former campaign manager Garret Garner, was revisited.
The hot issues were all the same at in 2010, only this time they are vindicated. We’re getting screwed on the biomass plant: check. Not enough done to clean up Koppers: check. Bus Rapid Mass Transit scheme too expensive: check. That last one actually got a price tag this time. Former two-term commissioner Ed Braddy revealed that the total price of the BRT “boondoggle” was $320M. He joked that the best use of those giant buses was to fill them up with the contaminated dirt from Koppers and drive it out of town.
The BRT got special attention from the moderator Charles Gosten because East Gainesville is seriously neglected by RTS. He said that the bus that runs down Waldo Road does not really count because Waldo Road is the line of demarcation between White Gainesville and Black Gainesville. Ed Braddy chimed in that he has promoted improving service in East Gainesville, where it is needed, as opposed to the BRT scheme of trying to lure new riders out of their cars in West Gainesville. Sherwin Henry agreed and said emphatically that his constituents are more interested in roads than BRT.
The candidates were mostly amiable toward one another, saving their attacks for the Mayor, but there were a few attempts at getting some separation. On the Koppers issue, Henry said that the issue was complicated and that the jury was still out on the health effects. Pete Johnson disagreed, saying that the jury was very much in on the health hazards of dioxin, and that we have it in our neighborhoods surrounding the old plant. Braddy said we needed to dig up and remove the contaminated soil, but Mark Venzke said it would be an astronomical cost, but offered no solution.
The enigma of the forum was Donald Shepherd. He claimed to have an eyewitness account of the Mayor and two individuals in a car that was removing one of his opponents signs. He was an angry populist who said he would represent the people, and said he had a list of over 100 changes he would make. When asked if he favored GRU being put under a board of directors separate from the City Commissioners, he said we should take a survey and do what the people want. He also lashed out at one of the forum questioners, Sheldon Packer of the housing authority, demanding to know what he’s done for the poor.
The next forum is at 1st United Methodist Church on the 23rd, and it’s sponsored by the League of Women Voters. We all hope the Mayor can make that one.
I have to head out to work now, so I will have to continue in another post later about Mac McEachern’s one man show in the District 4 forum.