Marlon Graham, 25, an Africana studies graduate student and teacher’s assistant at USF, is running for mayor in Wildwood, a small town in central Florida. Graham grew up in Wildwood and said that he wants to effect major changes in his hometown of about 4,000 people.
“I would say that the new Wildwood will be a city as a whole working together; (it) will be a stronger, more diverse community,” Graham said.
He said the small city of Wildwood needs a lot of improvements that one of his opponents, incumbent Ed Wolf, has not addressed in his 19 years as mayor.
Graham also said if he wins the election, he plans on focusing on building community centers, emphasizing community events and improving schools.
“First, improving the D-rated high school. That is unacceptable. I want to get an FCAT coach and free certification for the teachers,” Graham said.
Wolf disagrees with Graham’s ideas about how the city should deal with schools.
“I need to talk to (Graham) after the election, because he sounds like he is running for school board,” Wolf said. “He does not realize the separation between the two. The school-board issue is a county issue.”
Wolf added that he thinks that the competition is healthy. He has only been opposed twice since being elected mayor in 1987. This year he has two opponents, Graham and former city commissioner Michael Holden, who like Wolf is a former schoolteacher.
Holden is also focusing on building community centers as well as the town’s growth.
“We have no community swimming pool in this county in a state full of swimmers,” Holden said.
Wildwood is in the process of annexing farmland surrounding the city, which is nearly half the town’s size and will be used for both residential and commercial property. All of the candidates in the mayoral election are focusing their campaigns on diminishing the worries of city residents by providing more roads, police and recreational activities.
“I’ve been telling them people we have to get ready for this growth. We are going to get more land and we need to learn from the experiences of cities around us,” Holden said.
He said the city is not planning well for the new addition of land. He would work with larger surrounding municipalities such as Orange County to find more information about growing cities.
Wolf said this annexation is creating more jobs.
“In the last three or four years, we have created more job opportunities,” he said.
Wildwood collects approximately $509,000 in taxes from the entire city yearly. According to Wolf, the annual budget is $13.7 million. He believes that the candidates running against him do not realize the cities lack of funds the city has
“That is the issue: They are promising these things, but they don’t know there is no money,” Wolf said. “I wish Marlon would have attended a commission meeting. I don’t think that he knows what it entails to be mayor. I think he should have started at a lower level.”
Former USF student body President Omar Khan has been working with Graham’s campaign in Wildwood.
“He lives and breathes passion. He lives very disciplined, and he is very socially conscious,” Khan said. “He is a bridge builder.”
If elected, Graham said he will continue working toward his master’s degree in Africana studies and continue as a TA.
“I think that me being mayor and still being a student will speak volumes,” said Graham.Graham is not the only USF student dividing his time between the University and municipal pursuits. In April, 18-year-old sophomore Daniel Burgess was elected to the Zephyrhills city council.