Harvey Ward won Tuesday’s runoff election for Gainesville mayor against Ed Bielarski with more than 57% of the vote, according to unofficial results that still need to be certified by the canvassing board later this month.
“Thank you for everyone who’s been a part of this,” Ward told a cheering crowd at his election watch party at Heartwood Soundstage Tuesday night. “And for everyone who’s not been a part of this – everybody else – I want to earn your respect and your trust over the next four years.”
Ward is the first Gainesville mayor to be elected to the new four-year term. He will replace Mayor Lauren Poe, who is finishing his two-term limit after six years in the office.
“I told y’all back in August that I intended to be the last man standing out of the nine,” Ward said.
The win is a wider victory than Ward’s few hundred vote lead over Bielarski in the crowded primary election, which narrowed the race down from nine to two candidates. The race turned bitter at times, with Bielarski and Ward each accusing the other of disinformation and poor behavior. Neither was affiliated with a political party.
Ward told WUFT his first priority in office will be to repair public trust in City Hall, and pointed to some concrete steps already in action: rebuilding Citizens Field and the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center and establishing a health clinic on Hawthorne Road.
During his two terms as the District 2 city commissioner, Ward supported the city’s zero-waste program and affordable housing initiatives. He ran on a mayoral platform of free bus fare, environmental conservation, pedestrian safety and renewable energy.
Having grown up in east Gainesville and graduated from Eastside High, Ward said he is also committed to the economic development of that area. He also advocated for the use of land trusts to preserve historic neighborhoods and increase affordable housing.
Bielarski said he still plans to try to work with Ward on the challenges facing Gainesville, and pointed to the wide margin of votes in Ward’s favor as “a mandate that [Ward’s] ideas moving forward will stand firm.”
Bielarski centered his platform on reducing Gainesville Regional Utilities’ transfer to the city’s general fund, opposing high-rise development and preserving the community.
“I’m surprised,” Bielarski said of his loss. “But I think the citizens have spoken. They aren’t as concerned about the state of the utility and more concerned about some other issues.”
More than half of Alachua County’s eligible voters participated in the election, with more than 35,000 casting votes for Gainesville’s mayor. Moving the mayoral race to the fall ballot was successful in improving voter turnout – it’s more than triple the votes that were cast in the 2019 mayoral election.
In January, Ward asked the commission to fire Bielarski as general manager of GRU, which it did with a 4-2 vote. At the meeting, Bielarski announced his intention to run for mayor.
During his campaign, Ward noted he voted against raising utility rates four out of his six years on the commission, and that the commission has been reducing the transfer by $2 million annually and aims to continue that trend through 2027.
Both Bielarski and Ward said they would work to undo the commission’s recent ban on single-family zoning.
Ward fundraised more than $75,000 for his mayoral campaign, about $10,000 more than Bielarski, and spent more than $66,000.
Ward, 55, attended both Santa Fe College and the University of Florida, earning a bachelor’s degree in public relations. He worked in the nonprofit sector for 20 years and ran unsuccessfully for the city commission in 2014 before winning in 2017.
He served as mayor pro-tem in both 2019 and 2020 and chaired the Community Redevelopment Agency, digital access committee, and joint city/county climate and water policy board.
He’s raising three daughters in Gainesville with his wife Gillian.
Poe said at this time, he has no further plans to run for public office.
After his win, Ward made a request of the Gainesville community – take in the yard signs before this week’s storm.
WUFT’s Elliot Tritto contributed reporting.