The Independent Florida Alligator, March 1, 2000, page 3
By Zophia Rendon, Alligator Staff Writer
City commission at-large candidate Warren Nielsen knows how to solve problems, form bonds and develop formulas. Sometimes he even gets reactions.
This isn't the language of a smooth-speaking politician. Nielsen, a Santa Fe Community College chemistry professor for the last 25 years, stands in front of a classroom of 32 students, writing formulas and definitions on the board in cursive handwriting.
When he asks a question and no one answers, he asks again. This time about five students speak up, and he likes what he hears.
"There you go, yeah," he says, swooping a fist through the air victoriously. "That's what I wanted. You guys got it." Now he moves through the lecture more quickly. He writes a myriad of letters and numbers on the board. Some of the students begin to panic.
"Don't get freaked out about it," he reassures them. "You won't even have to solve this."
Nielsen now has about 35 years of chemistry knowledge under his belt. But 10 years ago, Nielsen decided he had more to learn - not about science, but about solving problems in Gainesville.
And he has done his homework. As the Gainesville resident of 30 years speaks, words like committees, transit, green space, compact city and beautification spill easily from his lips.
Nielsen says he thinks he's been a good student. He's learned a lot about how the city works and what will work for the city.
Nielsen fell in love with Gainesville in the '60s when he attended graduate school at UF to study chemistry. He recalls how the contrast between his conservative town of Norfolk, Va., and the open-minded attitude in Gainesville blew him away. He chucked the tie he used to wear to class and bought several pairs of bellbottoms. After a couple of years serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Nielsen returned to UF to finish his doctorate in chemistry, and ended up teaching at SFCC, where he has won numerous awards.
And then he began planting trees - quite a few of them. He turned dirt with his shovel along University Avenue and was an active member of the Gainesville City Beautification Board for years afterward, until 1997.
From there, Nielsen's involvement with the city grew. His experience was enough to prepare him for most of the questions that have been thrown at the candidates during forums and meetings in past weeks.
The self-taught city activist has come a long way since his tree-planting days. He now plans to make Gainesville "even more livable than it already is."
He is a proponent of infill construction - building more residences and businesses downtown as opposed to the outskirts of the city. Nielsen says infill would help Gainesville - a fast growing community - avoid making the same mistakes as Jacksonville.
And he knows he has to address the recent problem that has been irking students for the past two semesters - the closing time for bars and nightclubs.
"I support that decision. I think it was a good faith, honest decision," Nielsen says. "However ... I think that honest, responsible people - by shutting things down at 2 o'clock - have been disenfranchised."
Although Nielsen says he does not plan to overturn the law if he is elected, he would be willing to modify the law if club owners, patrons and the city work together to alleviate dangerous downtown activity.
He says he knows clubs aren't the only problem, pointing out that in past years drunkenness and fights have become more severe, especially during football games and at apartment complexes. He mentions the deaths of UF student Brian Tew and High Springs resident Wesley Ormsbee as reasons for the restrictions.
"We have got to figure out how to get a handle on that," he urges. "We can't let that get to a point where, all of a sudden, it's out of control. That's not what a university is about."
Nielsen says issues such as neighborhood restrictions on noise and parking cars are not anti-student, but pro-community.
Gainesville respects its residents, he says. It doesn't like to "get in your face" when it comes to personal freedoms. He points out that all of us are community members, no matter whether you are a student, a professor, a retiree or a business owner. Everyone in the community should be considered when making decisions for Gainesville, because that's what a community is all about, he says.