DUNEDIN — The city made history on Election Day when voters not only cast their ballots in an unprecedented race between two female candidates but chose Dunedin's first female mayor in nearly three decades.
The title went to Julie Ward Bujalski, who defeated longtime commission colleague Julie Scales by gaining 56 percent of votes.
Bujalski, 48, will lead a new commission majority that was automatically elected in June when no one filed to run against them.
She, former commissioner Deborah Kynes and seasoned city volunteers Bruce Livingston and John Tornga will join Heather Gracy, who was elected in 2012, on the dais during a swearing-in ceremony Monday.
Meanwhile, Bujalski agreed to answer some questions regarding her vision for the city, the commission's changing dynamic and her own place in Dunedin history.
As Dunedin's new mayor, what priorities do you plan to tackle first?
The first priority is working with our new commission to become a strong team. But a close second is sitting down with the Toronto Blue Jays to work through what our collective needs are and how we can work together to achieve them.
What are some things Dunedin has done well and some things the city could improve on?
Dunedin is an awesome community, which I'm proud to say is a trendsetter in many ways. The thing we do best is achieving uniqueness in everything we try and accomplish. Having said that, we can always do better. Expanding two-way communication with our residents, building on our relationships with other communities, and ensuring our resident customer service is pleasant and uncomplicated are things I feel we can always expand and improve upon.
You're filling the last two years of former mayor Dave Eggers' four-year term. If you run again, what accomplishments would you hope to campaign on?
Right now, we have several large issues to tackle like working with the Toronto Blue Jays and keeping spring training in Dunedin, creating a long-term parking solution in our downtown, and working with the county to ensure we get a compatible Causeway Bridge when the replacement occurs. That will be our focus for the next two years. I feel that these issues will dictate how we will move forward beyond the next two years. But I will say that working on a revised Storm Water Master Plan, collaborating with the Chamber of Commerce and Visit Dunedin on an expanded marketing plan for year-round tourism, and accomplishing an Economic Development Plan for State Road 580 are all long-term goals that our city needs to tackle now and into the future.
Your election marks the first time in 26 years that Dunedin has had a female mayor (and the second election cycle in as many years that has resulted in a female majority on the board) — a rarity among most elected panels except school board. Your thoughts on this milestone?
I'm very honored to be the first female mayor in 26 years and the third since Dunedin's existence. The honorable Judy Gould (1976-1978) and Mary Bonner (1982-1988) have given me very large shoes to fill. But I feel that the more important thing is we have a phenomenal new group of elected leaders who have stepped up to represent our residents with a fresh perspective and new ideas and that's what will benefit our community the most. I know they are just as excited as I am to work with our residents to keep Dunedin the quaint and unique place it has been for generations.
I would like to thank former Mayor and now County Commissioner-elect Dave Eggers for his longtime leadership of Dunedin. His steady hand guiding Dunedin through a tough recession and recovery has truly made our city more efficient and a more affordable place to live. I would also like to thank outgoing Commissioners Ron Barnette and Julie Scales. Their service to our community has been invaluable and we would not be the community we are without their leadership. And finally, I sincerely thank the residents of Dunedin for putting their faith in me. I look forward to working with each of you to make Dunedin the best it can be.
Contact Keyonna Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153. Follow @KeyonnaSummers.