IT’S NOT “ALL ABOUT CHARLIE”!! - WHO ARE THE PLAYERS IN THE IRBY-LEWIS ELECTION IN ALACHUA?
The lawsuit over the recent City of Alachua election where incumbent James Lewis defeated Lewis Irby has made the news and continues to be a topic of discussion on numerous blogs. Charlie Grapski has put himself in the forefront of much of the hype regarding this lawsuit. With his arrest at City Hall over an illegal recording incident and ejection from a City Commission meeting for disruptive behavior, as well as being banned from the City of Alachua, he is reveling in his narcissistic behavior. We’ve also seen the emergence of a new term “Grapskisms”.
But is this all about Charlie? Let’s start by examining the April 11th election scenario, Alachua politics, the cast of characters and Charlie’s minor 2-bit role. Follow the story, the players and then you decide if it’s about Charlie.
First, let’s take Lewis Irby. Locally he was touted as the “anti-Wal-Mart” candidate. In the April 2006 “Observer” when asked for comments on the proposed Wal-mart Supercenter (in Alachua), his response was “The supercenter doesn’t fit the vision of our City. It will kill historic Alachua as we know it. We don’t need it and it shouldn’t be there anyway because of the karst situation”. When examining his Campaign Treasures Report Summary, out of the total monetary contributions of $12,765, it shows $10,000 as coming out of Irby’s own pocket ($5,000 on 2/23/06 and another $5,000 on 3/23/06). Why would Irby spend $10,000 of his personal money to get elected?
Second, give some thought to one of Irby’s few listed contributors and supporters, Robert “Bob” Cohen (his name will again appear later in the lawsuit scenario). Cohen was mentioned in a G’ville Sun article published May 30, 2004 titled “Wal-mart Vote Polarizes Public” where the proposed Wal-mart at NW 53rd Avenue and US 441 was discussed. The article revealed that Cohen helped organize a group to do studies funded by The Pantry, the company that owns numerous Kangaroo gas stations in Alachua County and surrounding areas. Another article published in The Tampa Tribune on 9/11/05 reads “Supporters, Foes Get Professional In Big Box Fight” and describes “an event devoted to stopping the expansion of Wal-mart Supercenters and other big-box stores”. The accompanying photo by-line reads “Consultant Dave Newport and Bob Cohen work with a group of residents who are opposed to Wal-mart supercenters…” Does it seem strange that Cohen now surfaces in the Irby campaign (and subsequent legal challenge)?
Third, Jeannette Marie Hinsdale has emerged as another “shadow figure”. Her anti-Wal-mart opinions date back to 2003 and some Gainesville Commissioners may remember her from public discussions and published articles. Letters published in the G’ville Sun listed her as a Gainesville resident but now that Wal-mart is proposing a supercenter in Alachua, she, like Grapski, now claim Alachua as her home.
Fourth, let’s see how the ALA fits into the election picture and Irby’s defeat. They have a long history in the City of Alachua starting off in 2000 when Busy Kisling Shires Byerly (wife of Mike Byerly) in a widely published email, stated “A group of citizens in Alachua have formed a group called ‘ALA-CHUA’ Alachua Leadership Alliance – Citizens Helping Us All’ (ALA), to stop the development in the City of Alachua”. As a supposed “watchdog” activist group, they take credit for getting Commissioners elected that oppose growth. A G’ville Sun article dated 7/31/2002 reports “In the past two years, three ALA-backed candidates have been elected to the City (Alachua) Commission”. Another article dated 3/30/2003 headlined “Alachua Election May Turn on Growth”, reports that Eileen McCoy, treasurer of the ALA, was running against Commissioner James Lewis and if elected would ensure a majority vote on the commission for the Alachua Leadership Alliance. “We’re counting on her,” said an alliance founder, Robert Perez. They also sued the City of Alachua, WACO and Wal-Mart but lost after a 2 & 1/2-year costly battle.
Known ALA members and sympathizers supported Irby’s campaign. If that seat was filled by Irby and with Calderwood and Burgess’ seats coming up in April 2007, the opportunity existed for the ALA to regain a majority “no-growth” control over the City of Alachua commission and City Manager.
Now, fast-forward to the election. Irby loses, Lewis wins. The April 13, 2006 edition of Alachua County Today shows a photo entitled “Lewis Irby talks with supporters and strategists Tuesday (April 11, 2006) night after learning that he lost the election”. Among those included in the photo were Irby, Charlie Grapski, Eileen McCoy (ALA) and Michael Canney (co-chair of the Alachua County Green Party). In another photo published May 11, 2006 inside Alachua City Hall, Grapski is accompanied by ALA’s Robert Perez and Eileen McCoy. In the lawsuit that follows challenging the election, three of the six Plaintiffs are ALA members. In the issues surrounding Absentee Ballot information, Michael Canney, Co-Chair of Alachua County Green Party gets to play a major role. Politics makes for strange bedfellows. In a June 7, 2006 letter sent to absentee voters, Canney poses 11 questions regarding the voting process and states “A citizen has filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court seeking to invalidate the election results and order a new election.” Irby’s comment in the May 2006 Observer was “Just say, ‘He played; he lost’.” Irby conceded but apparently to some, there was more at stake than just an election. Even Commissioner Mike Byerly (husband of ALA officer Busy Byerly) jumped into the fray. He came all the way up from Micanopy to accompany Grapski & McCoy to Alachua City Hall and was quoted as saying “…just what are they trying to hide?”
So, here we are. Election is over, lawsuit and subsequent amendment challenging the election are filed and depositions are scheduled. Irby doesn’t appear to be playing a role in any of the legal jousting. Joe Little is attorney for the Plaintiffs and guess who shows up for the depositions? Remember Bob Cohen, Consultant for The Pantry? He’s present for all depositions and is seen passing notes and whispers to Little during the questioning. Remember Michael Canney, Co-Chair of the Green Party? He’s videoing all the sessions. Grapski appears for the final deposition of Alan Henderson on August 24th and all three are “helping” Little with the depositions.
Can you connect the dots? Has Charlie become a willing stoogie in what may be a corporate turf battle with the likes of Cohen and Hinsdale hovering in the shadows? Is he a pawn in an ALA political skirmish to regain control of the Alachua Commission and City Manager? Is this another ALA lawsuit that is destined to fail and cost the citizens a lot of their tax dollars?
Why did Grapski suddenly appear on April 11th? Have the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party in Alachua County joined forces and Grapski is the point-man? Is this about an election between Irby and Lewis or a battle about Wal-mart, The Pantry and other anti-Wal-mart groups?
Posted by Bud Calderwood