Florence City Council candidates hope to earn the votes of UNA students

David J. San Miguel | Ad Designer

Ellen McDonald, News Editor

As the city of Florence quickly approaches its election day, voters are narrowing down on who they will choose to vote for. 

On Aug. 25, 2020 polls will open both for the mayor of Florence as well as six city council seats. For District 2, the district UNA occupies, four candidates will be on the ballot.

The first of the four candidates is John D. Bowen, and he says that it is “time to pass the torch.” 

Bowen was raised in Rogersville, Ala., and often visited Florence growing up. After high school, he graduated from The University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Business. During college he studied Chinese abroad at Chia University in Taiwan. 

Upon graduation, he moved to Atlanta and worked in the financial services industry. It was there that Bowen apprenticed for the Oxford Center of Entrepreneurs where he had the opportunity to meet many restaurant owners and business executives. Bowen has since found his way back to Florence, Ala., and is ready to support nonprofits and small businesses within the city. 

Beyond all of this, Bowen strongly believes in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“This movement is just the beginning,” Bowen says on his website. He calls it a Justice Movement.

Bowen hopes to pass legislation connected to Breonna Taylor’s death; officers of the Louisville Metro Police Department fatally shot the 26-year-old first responder in her own apartment. Bowen hopes to pass legislation prohibiting the Florence Police Department from requesting no knock warrants from judges. 

He hopes to redirect police officer’s time towards fighting and exposing human trafficking. He claims this is a much larger issue for the people of District 2 than non-violent crimes. 

Bowen also supports legislation to classify the Confederate flag as hate speech and impose a $500 fine on anyone demonstrating such fear tactics, as stated on his website. 

He believes that the Confederate flag is a symbol for white supremacy and was recently used as an intimidation tactic during the protests in downtown Florence for the removal of the Confederate statue outside the Lauderdale County Courthouse. 

“We should represent the New South – a South that takes a new approach to incarcerating the masses – often black and brown people – based on non-violent drug offenses,” Bowen says on his website. Bowen states that the city can and will take a proactive stance when he is elected.

Lastly, Bowen wants to attract new business to Florence. Atlanta is just an hour long flight from the Muscle Shoals Airport, and he sees this as a wonderful opportunity for tourism and investment.

A second candidate for the Aug. 25 election is Billy Ray Simpson. Dr. Rev. Simpson is a local preacher and was born and raised in west Florence.

Simpson went to high school here in Florence and played on the football team. He is also in the Hall of Fame. 

After high school, Simpson joined the army and fought in the Vietnam War. Upon his return to the United States, he used his GI Bill to attend the University of North Alabama. 

He has always been interested in politics, and he has attended Florence City Council meetings since 2000.

“This is actually my third time I’ve run for office,” Simpson said. “I’ve always been interested in governing.” 

If elected, Simpson wants the Confederate statue that resides in front of the courthouse removed and placed in a cemetery. This way, he says, we can still honor the dead. 

“God made us all equal and he made us all different,” Simpson said. “Through the removal of the statue downtown, it will put Florence one step closer to unification.” 

Moreover, Simpson wants to help the homeless and less fortunate within the city. He says that our leaders have turned away from doing justly for our citizens that have fallen on hard times. He is very eager to put funding towards the betterment of the impoverished people of Florence. 

As the city councilman for District 2, Simpson wants to utilize UNA and its students. To him, UNA has always been something that makes Florence look good not just to those who live here, but to those all across the world. 

The next candidate for the Florence City Council District 2 seat is River Zurinsky. One of the biggest things that inspired Zurinsky to run for the seat was when he saw Florence City Council deny Room at the Table, a local charity, rights to serve meals to those in need from their building in Seven Points. 

As a local of Florence, Ala., Zurinsky says he has been very frustrated with our local government these last few years. 

“I feel that our current city council has not listened to the needs of everyone in the city,” Zurinsky said. 

If elected, the first thing he will do is meet with Room at the Table. He hopes to negotiate a deal that will allow them to start feeding the hungry from their building and drop their lawsuit against the city of Florence. 

Additionally, Zurinsky is passionate about the students of the University of North Alabama. He hopes to increase safety precautions through the placement of crosswalks on Pine Street, as well as fixing the crosswalks that are already downtown. 

To him, this is one of the biggest issues that UNA students have to deal with that is unrelated to the campus itself, but to the city. 

“On Court Street, you have seven intersections all the way up to Tuscaloosa,” Zurinsky said. “Only one of those intersections has fully working pedestrian systems.”

Any of these intersections could potentially end up costing someone their life if the local government does not fix it, Zurinsky claimed. 

Additionally, if elected, he hopes to relocate the Confederate statue downtown to Veteran’s Park or Soldier’s Rest. He would like to put a flag pole with the United States flag as well as the flags for the branches of the military in its place instead. 

“There shouldn’t have to be a reminder of slavery right in downtown Florence,” he says. “At the same time, we need a solution that honors all soldiers.”

He believes that through putting all the flags of the branches of our military up in place of the statue will do just that.  

Since downtown Florence is a part of District 2, Zurinsky hopes that UNA students will go downtown more. He also wants to expand UNA’s culinary arts program to be more beneficial to the city. 

He wants the city of Florence and the University of North Alabama to coordinate to where students can operate food trucks. Zurinsky thinks this would be a great opportunity for students to get firsthand experience of running a restaurant and interacting with the public. 

This interaction may be more limited due to COVID-19, but he hopes this could be a possibility in the future. 

Zurinsky also hopes to create an incentive for local restaurants to hang up the artwork of students since a lot of the restaurants downtown have artwork hung up, but it is not local artwork. 

Furthermore, he hopes to see the UNA band perform at local restaurants and music venues downtown. 

Zurinsky also wants the students to know that anyone who has lived in Florence for more than four months can vote in this election. 

For more information about Zurinsky, visit his Instagram @riverzurinskystar. 

The last candidate for the District 2 seat is Dick Jordan. He has more than 30 years of experience on the council and served as interim mayor in 2001 to 2004. He was first elected to office in 1979 and has been reelected 8 times.

During his career, he helped to bring the Marriott Hotel and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course to the Shoals area. It helped to bring hundreds of new jobs to the area. He also helped to bring the library to downtown. 

He has worked with the Homeless Care Council and the Salvation Army in the past to help address local homelessness. 

“District 2 is unique in that the historic downtown as well as the university are within its boundaries,” says Jordan. 

To him, this creates opportunities and sometimes challenges which is why we have continuous close communication with our community partners. Jordan added that we must keep our center city active, our community (or district) safe and our neighborhoods healthy. 

He looks forward and hopes to set goals that will benefit all of District 2 and always wants input on what is important to his citizens.

In a time where diversity is more important than ever, Jordan says that in order to achieve this diverse people must run for office. It is up to the public to select who represents them, Jordan explained. 

“There are numerous city boards that anyone can put in an application for,” Jordan said. 

Students, as well as those within the community may vote for Florence City Council District 2 candidates on August 25. Florence needs voters to get out and exercise their civil liberty to vote. Although personal health and safety is at utmost importance due to the pandemic, this election will determine the fate of the city for the next two years.