FOREST PARK — Qualifying for what is expected to be hotly-contested municipal races starts Monday morning at City Hall.
Several residents have already announced their political aspirations but qualifying will continue until Friday at 4:30 p.m. The mayor’s seat and posts for wards 1 and 2 are up for election in November.
Incumbent David Lockhart, who won an April special election, is expected to seek his first full term as mayor. Former Public Works Director Mike Gippert, who retired under pressure this summer, and former Mayor Pro Tem Sparkle Adams have also announced their intent to run for mayor.
Ward 2 has been empty since council members ousted Karen-Brandee Williams in July 2011. She is prohibited by city ordinance from seeking office for five years after her ousting.
Although Williams appealed to council earlier this month to reinstate her to her seat, members are not expected to reverse that 2-year-old decision.
The first person other than Williams to express an interest in that seat cast his hat into the ring this week. Luke Gawell announced Wednesday he will run in Ward 2.
“This is my first run for any political office,” he said. “I was told by local residents that I would be a great representative of the ward and that I should run if the spot ever opened. If you are a follower of the Clayton News Daily, we all know what happened to Ward 2 over the past few years and now the seat is open. I don’t intend to rehash the past but concentrate on moving Forest Park forward.”
According to Gawell’s political announcement, he has lived in Clayton County for 35 years, the last seven in Forest Park.
“I really see the beauty and potential in the people and in the city,” he said. “Our ward has a rich diversity of people, wonderful parks, a large recreation center and senior program, a beautiful new library and downtown Main Street.”
Gawell said he is an Eagle Scout, and is married with two children who attend Clayton County Public Schools. He graduated from Clayton State University with a Bachelor of Science degree and works in information technology as a project manager.
Gawell also said he is active in his community through volunteerism at Mission Forest Park, food pantry, clothing drives and city clean sweeps. He said he understands the needs of the people and has the business expertise needed to guide the city toward commercial growth.
“I have made an investment of my life and my family’s life in Clayton County and in the city of Forest Park,” he said. “My family lives right here so I have a vested interest in seeing that this community thrives. Together we can make a difference if we elect wise and honest council members who focus on the community without personal agendas that don’t serve the people of the city.”
Gawell said he speaks conversational Spanish and is an active member of First Baptist Church of Forest Park and Mission Forest Park.
He said he has been troubled by the departure of key city leaders in the past few months while Forest Park gears up for positive changes.
“Jobs, transportation, quality of life and city development are on the top of my priorities for Forest Park,” said Gawell. “The city has big plans for the development of Main Street and Fort Gillem in the works and it was troubling to see that our city manager, public works director, the city’s legal team and even the elections supervisor have all left their city posts in the past two months.
“The city has come too far in the last few years to get sidetracked now,” he continued. “I am confident that my ability to bring people together will allow me to serve the citizens and help the new administration move this city forward.”
Gawell encouraged voters to connect with him and follow his campaign on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/LukeForForestPark.
Ward 1 is held by Tommy Smith, who also took office this spring following a special election. It is the seat long held by Adams, who resigned in February to run against Lockhart. Smith hasn’t made a public announcement on his political intent.
The qualifying fee for mayor is $943, which is 3 percent of the annual salary of about $31,433. The filing fee for a council seat is $612, which is 3 percent of the $20,400 annual salary. Forest Park ranks as having one of the highest-paid municipal seats in Clayton County. The positions are part-time as the city has a city manager-form of government.