Commissioner Robert Stuart survives challenge in Orlando

Robert Stuart
Voters were asked to decide between a steady hand and new energy.

Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart won a fifth term in a close election Tuesday to represent Orlando’s north side on the City Council.

Stuart, a retired social services executive and longtime player in Orlando politics, managed to stay above 50% of the total votes in a three-way election Tuesday, defeating Nicolette Springer and Samuel Chambers, who both challenged him from the left.

In unofficial returns with all votes except for provisional ballots counted, Stuart received 51% of the vote; Springer, 44%; and Chambers, 5%.

It was the second close election in a row that Stuart won. Yet it continues the pattern of Orlando voters preferring to stay with who they have in office, as the city has grown and prospered through most of the 21st Century. No incumbent Commissioner has lost reelection in more than a decade. Tuesday night, Stuart’s fellow incumbent Commissioners Jim Gray and Regina Hill also won.

In the unofficial returns, Stuart finished 48 votes over the 50% threshold, avoiding a Dec. 7 runoff election with Springer.

“I’m so excited to have the opportunity to serve this district in my beloved city for four more years. Over the past 15 years, District 3 has grown, changed and increased in its diversity, inclusion, and quality of life,” Stuart said in a written statement Tuesday night.

“I’m honored that my neighbors continue to recognize that strong, caring leadership focused on building neighborhoods, supporting small businesses, investing in public safety, and prioritizing sustainability will ensure a brighter future for the city of Orlando,” Stuart continued.

A lifelong Orlando resident, as well as a key member of the broadly influential Stuart family and a fixture for decades in Orlando human services organizations, Stuart has long been a steady presence and a voice of compassion in Orlando politics.

Springer and Chambers argued it was time Orlando brought in new blood with new ideas and new energy, but voters didn’t agree.

The contest evolved into one in which Stuart represented much of the traditional establishment in Orlando, while Springer represented the progressive wing of the Democratic Party locally. Both are registered Democrats, but Stuart argued repeatedly that the election should be nonpartisan, as the office is nonpartisan. Springer maintained it was time to bring in new blood, new ideas, and new energy and drew the attention of a long list of progressive officeholders and activists.

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.

Stuart ran on a platform of finishing what he 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 had pressed for new approaches to such challenges as transportation safety and redevelopment. She also argued the city’s efforts, particularly with Edgewater and Corrine, and the pedestrian safety initiatives, have been far too slow in coming.

Chambers, a political newcomer, was a long shot against two well-known, well-funded, veteran political figures.

Through the most recent campaign finance reporting period, as of Oct. 15, Stuart had raised more than $82,000, much of it from the city’s traditional establishment of developers, lawyers, and real estate interests. Springer raised more than $48,000, getting significant backing from many well-known figures in progressive Democratic politics in Orlando.

Scott Powers

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 [email protected].


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