For Travaris McCurdy, keeping his seat is tougher than first winning it

Former Rep. Bruce Antone, Pam Powell and Shan Rose challenge for McCurdy's seat.

First-term Democratic Rep. Travaris McCurdy won his seat in 2020 without opposition, but his re-election bid this year has been just the opposite experience.

McCurdy has drawn three Democratic Primary Election challengers, including former Rep. Bruce Antone and community activists Pam Powell and Shan Rose, who each have more election campaign experience than he does.

For all practical purposes, House District 41 Democratic Primary Election voters will decide Tuesday night whether to return McCurdy or send Antone, Powell or Rose.

The district has drawn a Green Party candidate, Robin Denise Harris. Yet the west-central Orange County district, which spans from Oak Ridge through the Turkey Lake area to Orlo Vista, and from Parramore through Washington Shores to part of MetroWest, has an overwhelmingly Democratic voter base. So the General Election in November will likely be a simple ratification of Tuesday’s winner.

McCurdy knows he has to earn it this time, and insists he is.

“I feel good from what I’m hearing on the ground from my constituents. I don’t think anybody is outworking me on the ground,” McCurdy said. “I didn’t have to campaign this far two years ago and I’m absolutely welcoming this opportunity to meet and see people face-to-face without a mask this time around. I’ve out-fundraised my opposition. I have more endorsements than my opponents combined.”

Those endorsements have come from throughout the Democratic Party and its allies, including gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist; State Attorney Monique Worrell; state Sens. Randolph Bracy and Shevrin Jones; state Reps. Anna V. Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith; former state Rep. Alzo Reddick; and Bishop Derrick McRae; plus a variety of groups including unions, Planned Parenthood and Equality Florida.

Opponents are trying to paint McCurdy as someone who hadn’t — at least until now — spent enough time reaching out to the community or bringing back state funding.

Antone is a consultant who had spent 12 years in the House in old, now dissolved districts. He left in 2021 after eight years serving the old House District 46, which elected McCurdy to succeed him.

Rose is a former Orlando city planner and is now a nonprofit executive providing social services in neighborhoods. She ran for Orlando City Council last year.

Powell is an associate minister at the St. Mark Orlando AME Church, a syndicated radio and television talk show host, and a businesswoman. She has run for the House twice before.

McCurdy argues he has positioned himself as an effective opposition fighter in a Republican government run by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The role and image were crystalized in April by his leadership of the Black caucus sit-down strike, on the House floor, to protest the controversial congressional redistricting map, which eliminated two Black-majority congressional districts.

“People want bold leadership. People that I’ve talked to see me as a progressive voice. And especially with this Governor who doesn’t tolerate dissent, my voice is critical, especially with some of these issues we face, from women’s reproductive rights, education and opportunity, and our voting rights,” McCurdy said. “People like my youthfulness, they like my vigor, they like my passion for social justice.”

Antone argues people want someone to get things done on behalf of the district.

He points to his accomplishments, both in the House and as an aide to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, including projects to improve John Young Parkway through the region, alleviate flooding in two neighborhoods, keep house-to-house mail delivery, add money for Valencia College, bring money for the Evans High School Community School, boost scholarship money for historically black colleges and universities, and provide children’s mental health care money.

Now, he wants to bring his focus to affordable housing, which he said Tallahassee has to recognize as a crisis issue, and to gun violence in the Black communities, which he said needs statewide attention.

“Honestly I believe I’m going to win,” Antone said. “I’m going to win based on name recognition, because I’ve been on the ballot five times since 2010. I’ve won four of those elections. And folks know me and they tell me they don’t know the incumbent.”

Rose also decries the lack of funding that has come to the area in recent years. For her effort, she talks about building bridges to close gaps for a safer community for all.

“That ‘safer community’ means something different for every person. For business owners, it’s how do they keep their doors open to remain safe? For some of the residents, it’s how do we stabilize rent? For some of the property owners, it’s how are we going to get a handle on the insurance industry?” Rose said.

“We have to have community conversations. We haven’t had community meetings in this district for the past two years. So people are ecstatic to get to know someone who’s actually going to be in this seat, in this role.”

Powell is old-school, having first entered politics to help Reddick become Orange County’s first African American lawmaker in the early 1980s, and has plenty of support from the old guard of Orlando’s west side, including Kat Gordon, the Rev. Larry Mills, Dick Batchelor and the now-late civil rights leader the Rev. Nelson Pender, who died in July.

“My father was murdered by gun violence and my mother was left to be a widow. So I understand, and that’s always been my passion, to take a lot of this violence off the streets,” Powell said.

“Not only that, but affordable housing. People know my passion. I came up in a home where they told me I’d never make it or amount to anything. So I was able to prove that wrong and I was able to amount to something. So people know I’m the kind of person who’s been working with the community. I understand entrepreneurship. For 19 years I ran a business.”

She says her campaign is about “power to the people, not power to the politicians.” She also joins Antone and Rose in charging that McCurdy hasn’t gotten into the district enough. She pledges to hold community forums, saying she always has done so.

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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