No incumbent Orlando City Council member has lost a reelection bid in more than a decade, yet venerable Commissioner Robert Stuart is in a fierce battle with Nicolette Springer to hold his seat representing Orlando’s north side.
Heading into Tuesday’s municipal elections, Stuart, seeking reelection to a fifth term representing Orlando’s District 3, finds himself in a sometimes nasty campaign with Springer and a third candidate, Samuel Chambers, in a contest largely pitting the city’s establishment against progressive Democrats.
Chambers, a political newcomer, is a long shot against two well-known, well-funded, veteran political figures. Yet his candidacy could have a major impact, possibly sending a close election between Stuart and Springer into a runoff Dec. 7.
The office and the election officially are nonpartisan. Still, even though Stuart and Springer are both Democrats, the campaign often has taken on partisan overtones, as Springer tapped into the county’s large and rising progressive Democratic base for support. Stuart, a moderate and frequent ally for the Orlando business community, has been adamant that the party’s leaders should not get involved.
District 3 covers a mix of upscale and mostly professional-class neighborhoods such as Baldwin Park, Avalon Park, and College Park — some old and redeveloped and some new — and some more modest-income areas, including one of the city’s most distressed communities, Rosemont.
Stuart, who ran the nonprofit Christian Service Center for Central Florida for decades, has been in office since 2006, part of a veteran City Council. With Mayor Buddy Dyer, six of the seven members have been in office since 2014, four of them, including Stuart, since 2008. He has been a reliable ally of Dyer, though he broke with the Council’s majority when he voted to oppose RoseArts, a relatively high-density community redevelopment in the Rosemont area that became highly contentious this summer.
Springer and Chambers also oppose RoseArts. The debate among them has been over who opposes it more.
Stuart is running on a platform of finishing what he has started, particularly with transportation corridor reconstruction on two major community arteries — Edgewater Drive and the Virginia Drive-Corrine Drive.
Springer, a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters of Florida, and a criminologist with a specialty in mental health and substance abuse, first emerged prominently on the political scene when she ran for the Orange County Commission in 2018, losing to now-Commissioner Maribel Gomez Cordero.
She has been pressing for new blood, new ideas, and new approaches to such challenges as transportation safety and redevelopment. She also argues the city’s efforts, particularly with Edgewater and Corrine, and the pedestrian safety initiatives, have been far too slow in coming.