By Gabriel Hillel
One thing is crystal clear in our great university town. Student Gator elections on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, and Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, are for Student Gators only. Another thing seems equally clear. Those students are not expected to vote in mayoral and commission elections to select officials for those posts. That’s city business. Those young people just would not understand. Right? The real elections are for Gator Alums and people who live in neighborhoods with names—Duck Pond, or Lincoln Estates. You know what I mean.
Home owners. Not renters. Music, yes. Certainly. Mozart. Perhaps even a little Sinatra.
In that election for the older folks, none of the candidates for mayor or for the commissioner seat in the student district seems to have any interest in students participating in the elections. Tell the candidates they could win without Ken McGurn or Jon Mills but instead with students, and they look at you as if you are not there.
A College Student is a Candidate!
Wait! Isn’t there a college student running? Well, yes, there is. On the day Craig Lowe made his forgettable State of the City speech on Jan. 23, 2013, Alfredo Espinosa was announcing his candidacy. An adult Hispanic of course would have relied on his family name, without hyping the first name (do all Latinos think they have to go from Jerry Rivers to Geraldo Rivera, and learn Spanish in three weeks to get a scholarship?)
Espinosa Comes Out
Mr. Espinosa is 20 years and he is proud to say he is a member of Florida Blue Key, FBK. If you do not know what Florida Blue Key is, chances are you are not from here. FBK is the unique campus organization which split from the national Blue Key organization about 80 years ago. As far as its influence, stay tuned for the second part of this two-part opus.
The Independent University of Florida Alligator was on the scene when Senor Espinosa announced his candidacy, on campus the same day that the incumbent mayor was giving his 2012 state of the City address downtown to 100 of his faithful. Please note how the Alligator ends the report on Mr. Espinosa (Hey, let your hair down. Do you mind if we call you Al?).
“UF building construction junior Alfredo Espinosa announced his candidacy today for the District 4 City Commissioner seat. Espinosa, 20, will run against W.E. ‘Mac’ McEachern and Gainesville Commissioner Randy Wells. District 4 consists of most of UF’s campus and areas north of West University Avenue.
“Espinosa said UF encompasses a large part of the district. ‘I’m running to give the University of Florida a voice at the table,’ he said. His platform includes tackling crime, looking into high utility rates, cutting down traffic, helping the homeless and making the area a business-friendly environment.
“He said that as a student, he is living in ‘the core of our district,’ adding that he would apply that perspective to the commission….The election will be in March.”
In March? An Election?
In March? When? A Tuesday? Who knows? Who cares? Is there also a race at the same time to fill the office of Mayor for Gainesville? In fact there is00although the last issue of the campus Insite Magazine, dated January 2013, stated erroneously in a planted report that the incumbent was in his second term in office, after he completed a stint as city manager—a position that pays four times as much, because of the responsibilities and control granted to that administrator. But students would not care how much a mayor or commissioner made, if they thought they could make a difference.
It’s happened elsewhere, in another time, another place. However, no student is trying to be mayor, though that is not unheard of in one of the top 10 public universities. Paul Soglin, mayor of Madison, WI, (where the Badger flagship University is located), first ran successfully for the City Commission there when he was a graduate student, in the early 1970s.
While seeking a degree in the University of Wisconsin–Madison History Department, Soglin was first elected to Madison’s Common Council in 1968. He was re-elected in 1970, and 1972. The following year, he ran for mayor of Madison and was elected. Mayor Soglin proved it was not a fluke. He was reelected for two more terms, until 1979; then again, from 1989-1997; now since 2011. Why can’t it happen here?
Who Be the Berkeley of the South?
Former Florida State University President Marshall Jones was heard to say “UF is the Berkeley of the South.” Then again, some thought he was talking about FSU. Surely someone recognized that he had tremendous talent as a stand-up comedian. But seriously folks if the UF identifies with anyone downtown, it is not the protestors but the police.
But what about the issues? Al—Senor Espinosa, in case you have forgotten–apparently is running on the issues he gleaned from a study of past elections. Regrettably those are not issues the Sun has picked for the candidates this time. Al probably will get the hang of it after he has toured the Ron Cunnningham circuit (in Gainesville, however, you usually don’t even get coffee at these koffee klatches, unless they are held in someone’s home. Check out the Latina ladies.)
The Issues The Sun Has Picked for Us
The issues the Sun has picked for us this time are the biomess, bus and road transportation, and youthful innovation (no, this is not about partying.) Once the issues are settled, the Sun’s own Chris Curry faithfully follows the candidates from gathering to gathering. He gets sound bytes. Glittering generalities are mixed with astute banalities from each of the sulky candidates (except for Pete Johnson-for-Mayor. He smiles. See posters of Pete in hat, with a golden retriever wearing sun glasses riding shot gun in a convertible. Gainesville could be fun again.)
What issues would there be if Al wanted to stand out in that listless crowd of once was, might be, never will? The Number One issue for a student would be UF’s lockdown on local election politicking on the University of Florida campus. You want to leaflet? You want to put up posters? On bulletin boards? On kiosks? Maybe even gather a crowd on campus to make a speech? Yeah, right. Who do you think you are? John Edwards? Mario Rubio? Now that is a Hispanic. On UF, such political chit chat is no, nein, nyet! No local politics on campus. Not now. Not ever!
Is the UF Blackout Effective?
Last April, the incumbent Gainesville Mayor appeared to speak on campus and you could count the number of fingers of one hand among those who attended—if you included Craig Lowe himself. Walkin’ Lawton he is not. Next to him, even Tom Bussing looks good. Tom who?
The University of Florida wants to be in that top 10 public colleges in the nation and yet believes that it can do so without allowing any semblance of democracy on campus except in student elections. Of course, anyone can come on campus as long as you are not heard talking about local politics. Try to bring political literature in the Reitz Union, and Inspector Javert will find you soon enough, Valjean.
Religion? Sure. You have got First Amendment rights. But local politics? Where is that in the constitution? Admittedly local politics at best is not going to replace football, basketball or even women’s basketball. But hey. If you can have a Harlem Shake, why not a Presidents Day hoedown?
For the Shake last week, a few phone calls brought thousands of young people on campus in mid-day for a spontaneous rally. Local politicians however were nowhere to be seen.
Do you think UF is being petty? No way. Petty is fighting with the Independent UF Alligator about the number of news racks on campus. That’s petty. No. Local politics is beneath petty. But why can’t students go against the grain and vote for a mayor or commissioner? One of them surely must see himself or herself as the next Nelson Mandela or Jesse Ventura.
We are told that is not the case. We are told they do not want to vote here. Sure. That selfish-fulfilling prophecy holds true (some say UF does not want to pay overtime for the cleanup after a political rally.) But would it hold if students actually got behind a candidate and voted? Who knows? Who cares? Who do you think I am? Joe Biden?
No Political Spring on Campus
Have students revolted at times in the spring, stayed around and voted, not only in the first election but in a run-off? Not in recent memory. In the 2011 Gainesville spring election, there were 4,471 voters registered to vote in the Reitz Union precinct. That is the heart of Mr. Espinosa’s district. Not bad. How many voted? 57.
In the mayoral race in 2010, when the current incumbent won a run-off by 42 votes against a local businessman supported by conservatives and the local tea party, there were 4,465 registered voters eligible to vote at Reitz Union. That race produced an additional 30 voters-87.
In a fall election, with fewer registered voters at that precinct, but state and national races and amendments on the ballot at stake, 809 voters dared to cast votes—but they could evade inquisition by assuring anyone who asked that they did not vote on local candidates or issues.
However, you don’t need to be a weather person to know which way the wind is blowing in the local election. This is a spring election, a campus not an Arab Spring….Al knows that. So who is he counting on for support?
Surely if Florida Blue Key exercised its muscle, Al would have the means to stand up to the old boys. But the candidate penny-counting Gainesville Sun reports that Alfredo Espinosa looks to friends and family to scrape the thousands he needs to run a respectable race and perhaps force a run-off between his opponents.
Why doesn’t Al seek active FBK support? That is why this is the first of a two part series. Wait till next time.