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Dunedin city commissioner to challenge incumbent mayor

Heather Gracy, two-term commissioner, hopes to bring a “more innovative” approach to the office.

Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski faces a challenge from her own commission in the November city election.

That commissioner is Heather Gracy, who is term-limited after two four-year terms on the Dunedin Board of Commissioners.

“Lots of people asked me to consider this. They know what it takes to beat an incumbent, and what it takes to run for mayor,” Gracy said. “But I knew that, when I’m 80 years old, I would be mad if I didn’t do this.”

Gracy, 49, was first elected to the Dunedin Board of Commissioners in 2012, and was appointed vice mayor in 2014. Among her roles within the commission, she notes her involvement as a member of the Board of Directors of the Florida League of Cities, a group that represents more than 400 municipal governments in the state of Florida.

“It’s important to me that the voices of Dunedin are heard,” Gracy said.

For Bujalski, 54, representing the citizens of Dunedin has always been a top priority. “A mayor has to bring the city together, not divide it,” she said. “Unifying our city is the platform that I’ve always run on.”

Bujalski was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2006 and appointed vice mayor. She was elected mayor in 2014.

The candidates’ vision for the future of Dunedin centers on different issues.

Gracy emphasizes the importance of government transparency and new perspectives. “My tomorrow for Dunedin includes doors wide open,” she said. “I think the city forgets that the residents are on top. Our meetings need to reflect that.”

Bujalski notes the value of protecting Dunedin’s “village vibe,” a stance that she has held since her days as a commissioner. “I think the focus of our residents has always been the same: don’t mess with what’s good,” she said. “I grew up here, and I’ve lived almost my whole life here. I’m not going to mess it up.”

While Gracy said she has felt intimidated to run against an incumbent, that risk hasn’t deterred her. “It’s scary, but it’s something I have to do,” she said. “I think this office deserves my leadership. I’m more fresh, more innovative. I could run meetings that are shorter and more effective, where people can be confident that their voices will be heard.”

The election qualifying period for the nonpartisan office is July 13-27. The Dunedin city election will take place Nov. 3.

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