Lake Wales election follow years of political division

Daniel Williams Danny Kruger lake wales copy
Two incumbents face challenges to their re-election.

A power struggle in Lake Wales plays out with City Commission seats on the ballot as two incumbents face challengers.

City Commissioner Daniel Williams faces Brandon Alvarado and Crystal Higbee in a battle for his Seat 2 post. Meanwhile, Commissioner Daniel Krueger will fight Carol Gillespie for his Seat 4 slot on the board.

Gillespie, a local attorney, sees her challenge to Krueger as resistance to a takeover of the city by an evangelical church. Krueger was appointed orginally to the Commission, and she sees a small group controlling City Hall, led by Mayor Jack Hilligoss, lead pastor at HighPoint Church.

“The Lake Wales City Commission continues to take action not in the interest of voters,” Gillespie said. “My opponent is very much a follower of the mayor, who has put a lot of his church members on the city commission.”

She criticized a recent decision by Lake Wales to withdraw from the Polk County Water Cooperative, a poor move in light of explosive growth that has also gone unchecked at City Hall.

There has been drama around the seat. Krueger in 2022 won election to a vacant seat on the board following the suspension of former City Commissioner Kris Fitzgerald, but left after Gov. Ron DeSantis reinstated Fitzgerald after she was acquitted of a criminal charge. But as Fitzgerald moved out of the city, Krueger was able to finish out the term. Fitzgerald is now running for Congress. Hilligoss briefly held the seat following Fitzgerald’s suspension and preceding his election as Mayor.

Williams first won his seat in 2021. He has recently criticized a decision to retain the city’s police chief despite allegations of favoritism.

“Addressing social injustice requires courage and determination. It demands that we speak out against wrongdoing and advocate for change, even when it is uncomfortable or met with resistance from those in power,” he wrote on Facebook after questioning that decision.

“I was born and raised in Lake Wales, FL, and I am proud to call Lake Wales my hometown. You can rest assured that I am still, as I have always been, committed to channeling my passion into constructive efforts to correct injustices and promote equality.”

Alvarado is also a Lake Wales native. He has been active in historic preservation in the city, and is running on a platform of better uniting the community.

“Brandon stands for responsible growth, economic prosperity, and uniting the diverse voices of Lake Wales,” his campaign website states. “His comprehensive experience, from arts and education to business and community leadership, showcases his multifaceted approach to enriching our city.”

Higbee, president and CEO of Circle of Friends Ministry, wants to bring leadership from the religious organization to City Hall.

“I have always leaned toward leadership,” reads her LinkedIn. “I have been an advocate for people in need or who have been wronged since I was in grade school. I love a challenge and work best under stressful situations.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

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