Two candidates hope to be elected to Gainesville City Commission to represent District 3, which ranges from 34th Street to I-75.
In his office in Gainesville City Hall, Craig Carter has pictures of planes hanging on the wall and a photo of himself with President Jimmy Carter (no relation) on his desk.
He has a picture of Silver Springs: a place where he canoes, and a collage of pictures of his wife, Michelle, whom he calls his “best buddy.”
Carter enjoys keeping these items in his office because they represent the things in life he is passionate about. He said he would like to keep them in there for as long as the voters allow him to.
Carter, who represents District 3 on the Gainesville City Commission, is running for his second term in the March 14 election. He was first elected in May 2014, when he beat incumbent Commissioner Susan Bottcher.
He said he has fallen more in love with the job every day since he was elected.
“I’ve done a lot of things here that I’m quite frankly very proud of,” the 56-year- old said. “My district is in pretty good shape.”
Carter moved to Gainesville in 1989 and has owned several local businesses, including a golf cart dealership and a medical mobility company. He now works as a commercial realtor.
“After living here awhile, a friend suggested I run for city commission,” he said. “I told him I didn’t have any political background, and he said, ‘Exactly. That’s why we want you in there.’”
After Carter took office in 2014, he said he realized that his job as commissioner is to maintain diversity and shake things up.
“You have to break the group thinking,” Carter said. “If you get seven people who think alike and you get a big contract, you’ll never get someone to bring diversity to the discussion.”
If he’s elected to another term, he said he hopes to build upon what he has learned while in office and the experience he has gained.
“I think the city of Gainesville is already the greatest city,” Carter said. “I can live anywhere I want, and I choose to live here. There’s always a little tweaking to be done, though.”
Compared to his opponent, 26-year-old David Arreola, Carter said his age and experience make him more qualified to think about Gainesville as a whole.
“My opponent is a big advocate for thinking about the next generation, but he might forget about the current or older generations,” he said.
A main focus for the city should be to work as a catalyst for the youth and to merge the opportunities and institutions that support Gainesville kids, Carter said, especially in East Gainesville.
“Unfortunately, we have a lot of single parents out there,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s the city’s responsibility to raise the kids, but it’s the city’s opportunity to help these young people keep engaged.”
From extending high-speed internet in East Gainesville to creating different job opportunities, Carter said he wants to focus on training young people to be prepared for their lives and contribute to the community.
“We need to be open-minded and creative, and I want to continue that,” he said.
As for his opponent, Carter said he applauds Arreola’s enthusiasm and ideas.
“I think that someday, when he gets a little bit older and has a little more experience, I could see myself supporting him,” Carter said. “But words and actions are two very different things. I have a lot of action behind me.”
He said no matter what happens in the upcoming election, he hopes to continue to work with Arreola.
“I hope he doesn’t fizzle out,” he said. “If I beat him, I will encourage him to stay involved.”
David Arreola said he knows his hometown as if it were the back of his hand. He said he always knew he would return to Gainesville to serve in the local government after gaining experience in government from Flagler College in St. Augustine.
When he came back to Gainesville with his MBA, he decided to take part in the 2017 election for District 3 — the place he grew up. He jumped at the chance to represent his neighbors, he said.
“A lot of my childhood and family friends live in this part of town,” Arreola said. “As I’ve been talking to the neighborhoods, which is where my core support comes from, they know me from years ago.”
His start in Gainesville politics came from managing the campaign for District 4 Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos leading up to the March 2016 elections.
“Conversations with Adrian really helped to inspire my belief and what I think I could do to contribute to the City Commission,” Arreola said. “I’m certainly not new to this process. I’m familiar with the types of decisions that a city has to make.”
If elected, Arreola said he would be the first Mexican-American Gainesville commissioner, as well as the youngest. He has no doubt he could bring unique perspectives to the table that no other candidate could provide.
“Gainesville has changed a lot in the last 20 years,” he said. “I want to make sure that the City Commission is focusing on a future in which we’ve solved our most pressing issues. I can bring a change to the political and economic status quo that we have currently on the City Commission.”
His most important issues include Gainesville growth and development, equal neighborhood representation and city-wide internet access.
As the director of sales and marketing for 21st Century Communications, an internet service provider in Gainesville that started within the last four years, Arreola said he understands firsthand the lack of internet access in rural places.
“[Florida has] an education system that is continually moving to online platforms, and we expect families who don’t have access to broadband internet to keep up with that,” he said. “Gainesville has to expand options because right now that’s not happening.”
When Arreola’s parents came to America from Mexico in the ‘80s, they chose Gainesville as the place to raise a family because they saw a high quality of life — a quality of life he said he hopes to continue to offer to the people of the city.
Arreola says young people are underrepresented in the City Commission.
“Alachua County has a very young population, and not just university students,” Arreola said. “We represent about a third of the population, but it’s rare to see a young commissioner. I am extremely passionate about this city and inspiring young people to get involved in their community.”
Where They Stand On….
Both candidates agree that the education and development of Gainesville’s young population is a top priority.
For Carter, it’s about keeping all areas of Gainesville equal in terms of schooling. He said that as the west side of Gainesville is growing, new schools are being created. At the same time, schools on the east side are almost 50 years old.
“Not that we don’t have great schools all over, but you’re going to come to Gainesville and bring your kids to the new school over the old,” he said. “The better teachers will go to the better schools. We’re creating a vacuum.”
Carter thinks that the City Commission could discuss with the school board how the two can work together to solve this problem and equalize education opportunities.
Arreola said he is already making strides toward improving education system and collaborating with the board of Alachua County Public Schools.
“The board has had conversations with me where I’ve expressed ways that we can work together in terms of helping kids have more to do after school and in the summer,” he said, “because I think that youth development is an issue that we have here.”
Carter said Gainesville should be a place that attracts businesses and brings jobs.
It’s important for big businesses to be able to flourish here, he said, and one of the main ways to keep the economy in check is to focus on the future.
“Businesses are going to look at how the City Commission thinks,” Carter said. “If they think that we’re dumping on the businesses, they will quit coming here and people will quit coming here because businesses help increase the tax [base].”
Focusing on profitable businesses, he said, will grow the economy and allow for things that residents want, including parks and bike lanes.
Arreola said the biggest thing to stress in terms of city government lending a hand in economic development is the need to disperse government money in an equitable way.
“In this city, there has been so much development on the west side of town and downtown,” he said, “but there are still neglected areas in the city that are not seeing the economic development that is necessary to really alleviate some of these pockets of poverty.”
Arreola said projects like The Standard at West University Avenue and 13th Street are counter-productive because they flood millions into non-local corporations at the expense of Gainesville-owned business.
“The City Commission needs to make it a top priority to fund economic development that is being equitably dispersed in all areas of the city, especially in the areas that need it,” he said. “Funds need to go to local businesses that are owned by families here in Gainesville.”
In terms of Gainesville’s natural resources and environment, both Carter and Arreola said they know that the city is unique in its diverse landscape.
Arreola is endorsed by the Sierra Club, a nonprofit group that promotes the environment through activism. He said he hopes to strengthen the legacy of environmental protection, especially given what is happening on the national stage.
One of his focuses: the city’s historic tree canopies.
“We used to regularly call ourselves Tree City, USA,” he said. “One of my top environmental priorities is protecting these canopies, but not so much that we’re not being smart about removing dead trees or trees that pose danger to power lines.”
He and Carter both want to work with the county to reduce nitrates in the water.
“The threat of algae blooms is very real,” Arreola said. “We need to take precautions.”
“In our storm-water policy that I’m working on with the county, if we truly want to reduce nitrates, can we get a bigger bang for the buck?” Carter asked. “Let’s not just hone in on one thing that could have an adverse effect. If we’re going to try to reduce nitrates, which we do need to do, let’s figure out how we can make it happen.”
The City of Gainesville Regular Election will take place on March 14, and early voting will be available from March 6 until March 11 at three locations: the Supervisor of Elections office, the Millhopper Branch Library and the Cone Park Library.