Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer wants a sixth term in charge of Central Florida’s most prominent city. But a number of opponents qualified to challenge his re-election.
Former City Councilman Sam Ings qualified to challenge Dyer. So did Tony Vargas, owner of The Healthy Human personal training studio. And Steve Dixon, a former Republican state Senate candidate, also qualified just ahead of a Thursday deadline.
The field will face off in a Nov. 7 election. A runoff has been scheduled if needed for Dec. 5.
Dyer, the longest serving Mayor in city history, expressed confidence he will win re-election.
“I’m just as excited today to have the opportunity to enter into another term as Mayor as I was the first day I took office in 2003,” Dyer said.
Dyer, a former Democratic Senator, has served as the face of the City Beautiful since 2003 when he emerged as voters’ top choice from a crowded field. He last won re-election with an overwhelming 72% of the vote over Ings in 2019.
Since Dyer took over at City Hall, Orlando gained national prominence, though problems like rising rents also surfaced. He also led the city through what was at the time the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history when a gunman killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub.
His re-election campaign touts a number of accomplishments.
“Several of his many achievements include the expansion of transportation options, the creation of more than 1,500 affordable housing units, a 50 percent reduction in crime, the creation of thousands of new businesses and jobs, and the continuous movement toward 100 percent renewable energy citywide,” the website reads.
Ings is Dyer’s most notable challenger. He served on the Orlando City Council for 13 years before challenging Dyer in 2019. Before being elected as an Orlando City Commissioner, Ings worked on the Orlando Police force, and his father Charles Ings was the agency’s first Black detective. The younger Ings was the first Black OPD officer to graduate from the FBI National Academy.
“He has consistently made improvements for residents and businesses, including converting an old vacant bank to a police station,” Ings’ website states. “He added a new fire station, as well as new roads and new sewer systems and LED lighting for neighborhoods.”
Ings said a change in direction for Orlando is overdue.
“Orlando is declining and is on the verge of a social and economic collapse,” he said in a statement to Florida Politics. “Don’t think that Orlando cannot turn like other cities where crime is rampant, drug use is public, and homelessness is at an all time high. It can and it will if we keep the current Mayor in office who is going for a 6th term.
“When a 6-year old child is killed and her mother is critically wounded while watching TV in her home, and the current Mayor holds a ribbon cutting in the same neighborhood without addressing the issues of gang violence and crime in Orlando, it’s time for him to go!”
Dyer feels confident the latest matchup with Ings will end the same as the last one. He also said there is plenty to do, including addressing homelessness and affordable housing in the city. While he doubts the attainable housing issue can be solved outright — 1,500 people on average move to Central Florida each week — Dyer said Orlando can be part of a regional solution.
“I’ve been able to lead in a fashion to unite our community, rather than the way our politics has been going at the state and federal level these days,” Dyer said. “Everything I accomplished, I collaborated with community partners and worked together. I think Orlando does that better than any community in the country.”
Vargas, a political newcomer, founded his current business in Orlando 2008. He previously owned Physique Plus, according to his LinkedIn page.
Dixon last year challenged state Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat who took 56% of the vote in November. Dixon ran on a conservative platform at the time focused largely on restricting abortion in Florida.
Other candidates had previously filed as potential contenders but ultimately did not qualify for the ballot.
Both Gertrude Pierre and Ky Velez formally withdrew from the race.
Safraaz Alli and Moe DiManche failed to qualify by the noon deadline.