by Joe Courter
First off, congratulations to Helen Warren, one of the genuinely nicest people I have ever met, on winning a very close runoff election for City Commission on April 8. With the unexpected loss by Susan Bottcher back in March, the Gainesville City Commission is in a very polarized situation ideologically, and is also made up of some very contentious people. Helen’s promised role as a facilitator and peacemaker will be sorely tested in the coming years; I wish her strength and wisdom in dealing with what lies ahead, but it is up to citizens to show up and have make their voices heard, too.
Secondly, I was appalled by the negative campaign waged by the Democratic Party against Annie Orlando, and frankly am surprised that the mud slinging campaign worked; usually in Gainesville it is the Right that stoops down to that level, and it is usually a losing strategy. As I said last month, it was no surprise that the anti-biomass and Tea Party crowd supported Annie; but that did not make her one. I know her to be a decent, independent-minded person, a longtime Democrat, and to see the tactics used to defeat her was quite disheartening. Party organization and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) strategy trumped all those (perhaps too many?) signs, I guess.
Those who ran Helen’s campaign may feel it worked, but at what cost, and what precedent does it set for the future? There were a lot of good liberal democrats who know Annie well, or who just worked on her campaign out of genuine concern over issues like the biomass plant and solar feed-in tariff, who probably share my discomfort with the way things went down. In the case of this election, just because an opponent doesn’t sign a Democratic Party loyalty oath doesn’t give you the right to lie about them.
One solution would be that each candidate be more active in setting the tone and reigning in their more zealous and perhaps offensive campaigners; truly it is in the candidate’s name that the campaign is being run, and they need to take on that responsibility, be it via social media or at forums, and not let false charges and/or personal attacks drag the campaign into the mud.
There will be a good test coming this August with a contested Democratic primary for a County Commission seat featuring Ken Cornell and Kevin Thorpe. We shall see if we can move past this or if the divisions continue, and weaken the progressive side’s chances in the Fall.