Carol Gillespie upsets Daniel Krueger in Lake Wales, Daniel Williams clings to 1-vote lead
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CU straight on row of voting booths at polling station during Am
The election followed years of contention over who fills seats on the Board.

Lake Wales City Commissioner Danny Krueger lost his re-election bid to challenger Carol Gillespie. Meanwhile, fellow Lake Wales City Commissioner Daniel Williams is clinging to a one-vote lead on challenger Brandon Alvarado.

Unofficial final election results showed Williams with 939 votes to Alvarado’s 938, and Polk County election officials confirmed all tabulation is done for the evening. Crystal Higbee, a third candidate, received 347 votes.

The winner-takes-all election will not result in a runoff, and state law requires a recount for any election where results fall within a half-percentage point. Additional votes may yet be tabulated before results are certified Thursday, but the results will almost certainly trigger at least a machine recount.

Gillespie’s win was more decisive. She won 1,325 votes to Krueger’s 983, taking more than 57% of the total vote.

The dramatic city elections results cap off a contentious city election. Earlier in the evening, officials reported only Election Day results and it appeared both Krueger and Williams had decisively won, but once vote-by-mail results were added to totals, Gillespie’s victory was clear, as was the likely need for a recount in Seat 2.

Gillespie, a local lawyer, had cast her challenge to Krueger as resistance to a takeover of the city by an evangelical church. Krueger was appointed originally to the Commission. Gillespie says a small group controls 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.

Meanwhile, 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 ran 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, wanted 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.”

Unofficial final results from Polk County Supervisor of Elections.

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].


One comment

  • Phil Morton

    April 3, 2024 at 6:56 am

    The three-way crowd got shot down, always good to see.

    Reply

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