Voters in the city of Orlando will decide whether to re-elect three incumbents or seek change in leadership. That job of Mayor and two City Council posts appear on the ballot.
Mayor Buddy Dyer is making the case against three challengers that he deserves a seventh term. But there are also two key City Council races. District 4 Commissioner Patty Sheehan, Orlando’s longest-serving Commissioner faces two opponents, Katie Koch and Randy Ross. District 6 Commissioner Bakari Burns faces a challenger to his re-election in Rufus Hawkins.
Polls open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In any race where no candidate has a majority, the top two vote-getters advance to a Dec. 5 runoff.
Sheehan, the first openly gay official elected to any office in Florida, has held her seat on the City Council since 2000. In that time, the Colonialtown leader served as a face of the city after the 2016 Pulse shooting. But she’s also pushed for more community gardens and a bicycling beltway through the city. She pushed for the restoration and expansion of Lake Eola Park.
“The voters have re-elected me time and time again,” Sheehan said. “I think that’s because they want expertise and want someone at the helm who knows what is going on.”
But both Ross and Koch say the city in recent years has seen a significant decline in safety and rise in crime to the point where downtown no longer feels safe.
“If we want to see improvement in crime and infrastructure in District 4, what that incumbent has been doing is not working,” said Koch, an IFCO Systems executive. She said roads have deteriorated and residents no longer feel safe downtown.
“There’s just a lack of communication about what the plan is to improve it,” she added.
Ross echoed much of that. But mostly, the gay Republican political consultant attacked the collapse of the onePULSE Foundation, the nonprofit that spent seven years raising money for building a museum but recently abandoned the mission.
He has called for an audit of the foundation, and heavily criticized a decision cheered by Dyer and Sheehan to spend $2 million and buy the Pulse shooting site.
“We need a task force that will systematically put the best interest of all parties front and center and once and for all give the community closure,” Ross said.
“That includes The City of Orlando giving the owners the asking price they seek and eliminating site ownership as a hurdle. Enough of the finger pointing. Let’s execute a plan. The onePULSE Foundation has illustrated, through gross overpayments of executives alone, the organization should not be in charge of the future of a memorial.”
Sheehan for her part said the problems with the onePULSE Foundation aren’t the fault of the public sector. “City is not affiliated with onePULSE,” she said, “nor am I.”
She supported buying the land to put an end to the affair, and said the city should pursue a respectful memorial on the land for families of the 49 people killed.
Sheehan raised in excess of $84,000 to defend the seat. Through Nov. 2, she had spent almost $54,000 of that.
Ross, by comparison, raised about $37,000 and spent about $18,000.
Koch, in comparison, collected $225 over the course of the campaign.
The spending only includes reports from campaign accounts, not outside political committees and other spending.
Burns said he looks forward to facing voters as he seeks a second term on the Council. He came into office after winning his seat in 2019, beating former Sen. Gary Siplin for an open seat.
Since then, he has focused extensively on affordable housing, and sees literal groundwork that both erases blight in the community and sets up a chance for attainable housing in a community with rapidly rising rents. He points to a development breaking ground on Fruitland Boulevard.
“I’m confident in the record that we are running on,” Burns said. “I don’t take anything for granted. But I ask voters in District 6 to look at what I said I was going to do and then what I have done. I see this as my evaluation period.”
Burns has not met Hawkins, who did not respond to requests for an interview from Florida Politics. Hawkins did speak to the Orlando Sentinel editorial board and said he felt the district still had unmet infrastructure needs. In particular, he noted potholes in roads and sidewalks left unmaintained.
“These are issues I would look at and evaluate from Day 1,” he said.
Burns has spent significantly more to defend the seat, collecting more than $58,000 in donations and spending about $36,000 of that through Nov. 2.
But Hawkins also made a notable investment in the race, reporting almost $12,000 in contributions and expending about $10,000 of that.