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Aramis Ayala not seeking re-election as Orlando’s top prosecutor

Historic, controversial, seeking ‘different capacity’

Citing her disagreement with capital punishment, history-making and controversial State Attorney Aramis Ayala on Tuesday morning announced she will not seek re-election next year.

Ayala became the first African-American ever elected state attorney in Florida when she won an upset victory in 2016 in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit.

She then quickly became a national and international figure in the death penalty debate, and a lightning rod when she announced early in her tenure that she would not pursue executions in capital murder cases in Orange and Osceola counties.

She battled with then-Gov. Rick Scott and others over her authority to do so, and ultimately lost in a landmark Florida Supreme Court decision in August 2017, which found Florida’s elected prosecutors cannot impose no-death penalty policies.

In a three-minute video Ayala released on her office’s Facebook and Twitter pages Tuesday morning, she announced that she would not seek a second term. She made her opposition of the death penalty front-and-center in her remarks, saying it is a cause she wants to pursue, but cannot as a State Attorney.

“After the Florida Supreme Court’s decision on the death penalty, it became abundantly clear to me that death penalty law in the state of Florida is in direct conflict with my view and my vision for the administration of justice,” Ayala says in the video.

“Now as State Attorney, those views will not impact the administration of law, and I will continue to follow the law. But I also realize it is time for me to move forward and continue to the pursuit of justice in a different capacity,” she said.

She did not specify what that different capacity might be. Her office said she will not be commenting further, at least not Tuesday.

Her opposition to the death penalty made her a target for supporters of capital punishment, with many calling for her removal of office.

Yet her stand also made her a celebrity in the death penalty opposition movement, and many national groups came to her aid in the case, just as many pro-death penalty groups weighed in to help Scott’s case.

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She also found in the 2018 election cycle that she was a popular get for progressive Democrats seeking office. Among her work on behalf of other candidates, she drew a champion’s ovation when she gave a warm-up speech during former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s run for Governor last year.

In 2020, she would have face Assistant State Attorney Ryan Williams of Winter Garden.

Williams, a Democrat like Ayala, was a hold-over from the previous State Attorney’s staff and he put in for a transfer to Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit as soon as Ayala announced her ban on death penalty prosecutions in March 2017.

Williams was prepared to make the death penalty debate a cornerstone of his campaign, had Ayala sought to keep the job in the 2020 election.

“While I salute Ms. Ayala’s standing as the first African-American woman elected to the State Attorney’s Office in Florida, the policies of Ms. Ayala and her administration have been more about headlines rather than justice,” he said in a statement.

“During her tenure, Ms. Ayala has refused to follow the law, and promised policies that ultimately made headlines but had no overall effect on the community,” he added. “As State Attorney, my goal will be to focus on policies that have a real positive impact on the lives of non-violent first offenders, those afflicted by drug addiction, and those who simply make mistakes, allowing us the time and resources to protect the community from violent criminals.

“As State Attorney I will seek to serve the people, not the political agendas of those outside our community.”

Among other challenges she might have had to overcome in a re-election bid, Ayala never really ran much of a campaign when she won in 2016, and demonstrated little grass-roots or fundraising prowess. Her campaign was aided by outside political committee work funded by New York billionaire George Soros.

Williams has opened fast in his 2020 campaign, raising $68,000 in three months, more than Ayala raised in her entire 2016 run. There also is a Republican who filed to run, but Orlando attorney Kevin Morinski‘s campaign has been largely dormant.

In her video, Ayala stressed that her focus has been on expanding diversity and reforming prosecutorial policies and her office’s programs.

“I do look forward to continuing to serve as State Attorney. There’s still a lot of time. And there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done,” she said.

“Which is why in the upcoming weeks and months I will continue to unveil new policies, new initiatives and new programs that will serve the community of Orange and Osceola County. And I do expect all of those initiatives to last in the years to come.”

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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