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In the past six months, Alachua County's small towns and cities were scheduled to hold seven separate elections to choose their municipal leaders. Five were canceled. This series explores some of the reasons why.

How’s Waldo? Uncontested races are the norm for almost 20 years

The last contested election in Waldo was held in 2005. Mayor Louie Davis has been running the city for 40 years.
WUFT News/Richard Bennett
The last contested election in Waldo was held in 2005. Mayor Louie Davis has been running the city for 40 years.

When Waldo residents head to the polls on Election Day, it won't be to vote for anyone local.

No one applied to oppose the incumbent city council members — Shannon Boal (D), Rick Pisano (R) and Carolyn Wade (D), who is also the council chair — during the qualifying period in October. And as a result, the mayor proclaimed that city elections, originally planned to take place on Dec. 5, were canceled.

Uncontested races has been a thing for years in the city of Waldo, as is having elected officials remain in office for decades.

Waldo's current mayor, Louie Davis (R), was first elected to office in 1984 and has been running the city every since.

The last time Waldo had contested elections, suffice to say there was some drama. That was back in 2005, when Mayor Davis was being challenged by Larry Dowling, who had been a council member for four years at that time.

Because Dowling was not running for re-election to the city council, there were others vying for his council seat, including his wife, Peggy. There were also two other candidates running for that spot — one of them being Carolyn Wade. The outcome of the 2005 election saw Dowling losing the mayoral race while Wade was elected to take over his former city council seat.

The drama continued until the following year, when Dowling and his two sons, Jason and Larry Jr., were found guilty of battery and abuse. They had been charged with attacking a disabled city resident at a city council meeting a week after Waldo's election. Officers described the incident as an "ambush," according to the Gainesville Sun.

Mayor Counts His Contested Elections

Although uncontested elections have become the norm after that heated one in 2005, some residents do complain about the absence of elections, said Kim Worley, Waldo’s city manager.

“You get the occasional person who’s grumpy and wants to run or whatever,” Worley, a registered Democrat, said. “Then when it comes time to qualify, we put the information out everywhere. They don’t tend to run.”

Worley's thoughts on Waldo's election

Waldo, founded in the 1820s, once thrived. In the early 1900s, it had a population of 1,628. But more recently, according to the 2020 Decennial Census, the population is down to 846 and continues to shrink.

Mayor Davis has experienced a lot of changes first-hand over the decades.

“The police department," the 78-year-old lifelong resident of Waldo said, "was the hardest one to deal with.”

He was referencing the disbanding of Waldo's police department in October 2014 by a city council vote of 4-1. There had been an investigation into illegal ticket quotas that ultimately saw the city’s police chief and interim chief resign. Waldo is now policed by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.

Uncontested elections became the norm in Waldo after a heated election in 2005. That was the last time the city had a contested race.

Despite the challenges of being mayor, Davis said that he enjoys serving the people of Waldo — that's why he ran for mayor in the first place 40 years ago.

Davis described his constituents as “people that like small towns that like to live in a small town, people who know their neighbors, look after one another.”

Davis is not alone as a city official who has served Waldo for decades. There's the city council members, of course. And Worley has been the city manager since November 2001.

When asked why Davis and Worley stay in these positions so long, Worley simply said that they both really like Waldo and “see the potential in it.”

Families gathered in April for a baseball tournament in Waldo. The mayor describe his constituents as “people that like small towns that like to live in a small town, people who know their neighbors, look after one another.”
WUFT News / Richard Bennett
Families gathered in April for a baseball tournament in Waldo. The mayor describe his constituents as “people that like small towns that like to live in a small town, people who know their neighbors, look after one another.”

Jailene Figueroa, 25, has been a resident of Waldo for five years now. She said she was completely unaware that the upcoming local election would not be held.

“Waldo is stuck in its own way,” she said to explain why she was not interested in voting anyway.

Figueroa said she does not keep up with politics and has not noticed many changes in Waldo. She said that Waldo “needs more diversity but it’s Waldo. It’s been like that for so long.”

She believes the officials are running unopposed because no one wants the stress of running against them.

“Everybody tends to mind their own business," Figueroa said of her fellow town folk. "They’re all very calm.”

For Davis, with elections months away and each council seat running unopposed, there has been no preparation made for the upcoming voting season.

“Well, it’s in December," Davis said with a laugh, "so we really haven’t started thinking about it.”

The city of Waldo functions as a council-manager form of government, where voters elect the city council, and in turn the council then appoints its city manager.

What once used to be the Waldo Community School but closed in 2015 because of low enrollment, is now Waldo’s City Square. Richard Bennett/WUFT News
What once used to be the Waldo Community School but closed in 2015 because of low enrollment, is now Waldo’s City Square. Richard Bennett/WUFT News

Council seats are two-year terms. The incumbents will be sworn in at the January city council meeting.

Waldo City Council Member Boal said he is grateful to be able to serve and mentioned that he likes to step in where he is needed, describing himself as a “person that is designed to go fill a gap.” He also expressed gratitude for his fellow commissioners, highlighting their strengths one by one.

Regarding Waldo’s government and the lack of contested elections, Boal said he believes most people are happy with it and that it is just a “little town that works.”

“I think that Waldo’s a place where people get along,” Boal said. “Things aren’t perfect, but people get along here. It’s very nice.”

For Boal, Waldo is a town that has more to it than what meets the eye. He compared it to the whimsical village from the musical “The Legend of Brigadoon.”

“A hidden mythical place in the forest," Boal said, "where people take care of each other.”

Kate is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

Alyssa is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.
Richard is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.