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Bob Cortes heads for Puerto Rico on relief mission organized through speaker’s office

State Rep. Bob Cortes went to Puerto Rico Monday to oversee a disaster relief effort arranged by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and coordinated by him and other members of the Seminole County Legislative Caucus.

Cortes, a Republican from Altamonte Springs, is overseeing delivery of about four tons of supplies headed for the hard-hit eastern part of the island commonwealth.

Puerto Rico is his family home, where he still has numerous family members struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation. On Monday Cortes expressed hope to get supplies through to some of the 3.5 million people who lost so much, most still without power, many without running water, and all struggling.

He also expects to meet with officials there, possibly including Gov. Ricardo Rossello, to talk about future cooperative efforts between Florida and Puerto Rico.

“We want to make sure what we do here will set the tone for the future as we try to help,” Cortes said by phone from San Juan.

This effort, he said, was arranged through conversations between Corcoran and Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos Johnny Méndez.

Seminole County’s Legislative Caucus of Cortes, state Sen. Dave Simmons, and state Reps. Scott Plakon, and Jason Brodeur worked with the Orlando Sanford International Airport, Allegiant Airlines and the Course of Action Foundation to make it happen.

“I’m so proud to be part of this effort to do our part in helping our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico who continue to suffer in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” Cortes stated in a news release issued by his office. “Everyone has worked tirelessly to coordinate this project.”

Darren Soto’s slow campaign fundraising still unchallenged

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando raised just $83,000 during the last quarter for his re-election campaign in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, yet neither of his Republican challengers in Florida’s 9th Congressional District raised much of anything.

The new contributions through Sept. 30, minus $28,000 in campaign expenses, left Soto with $222,318 in the bank on Oct. 1, according to the latest campaign finance reports posted on the Federal Election Commission website.

To date, Soto had raised $282,727 for his campaign, most of that coming from political action committee donations. Those committee donations include $10,000 from the No Labels Problem Solvers PAC, created by a bipartisan group of Congress members.

Two Republican challengers, Wayne Liebnitzky and Sean Alan Buchan, both reported raising less than $1,000 during the quarter covering July, August and September. Buchan finished the quarter with no money, while Liebnitzky reported having $362 in the bank.

Scott Sturgill raises $200K in CD 7 race

Republican candidate Scott Sturgill raised more than $200,000 in the third quarter of 2017 for his campaign to win Florida’s 7th Congressional District in Central Florida.

Sturgilll, a Sanford businessman, sits well behind Democratic incumbent Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park in the early money race toward the 2018 election. Last week Murphy reported that her fundraising had topped $1 million toward her re-election bid.

However, Sturgill leads state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park heading toward the 2018 Republican primary. Miller reported raising $156,000.

Sturgill’s big showing came in part through his own wallet. The chief executive officer of  Durable Safety Products contributed $100,250 through a personal loan to his campaign. His total came in at $206,395. After expenses, he reported having $177,499 going into October.

“We are excited for the support my campaign has received so far,” Sturgill said. “We hit our target and I then matched from my own pocket dollar for dollar up to $100,000.”

Sturgill has notable endorsements from Florida Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma, former Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary.

“Inside the district, our team is growing everyday as we seek to end the career of Nancy Pelosi’s puppet congresswoman,” Sturgill said of Murphy. “Our district will have a real voice again, not one that is funded primarily by outside liberal interests.”

The other Democrat in the race, Chardo Richardson, reported raising $11,724.

CD 7 covers all of Seminole County and north and central Orange County, through and including downtown Orlando.

Say it isn’t so: Pluto no longer ‘top dog’ at Disney?

Don’t worry: Pluto is still the main canine at Walt Disney World Resort—but he won’t be the only dog.

The theme park will welcome dogs to four hotels for the first time ever beginning Sunday.

Dog lovers will find plenty of Disney perks for their four-legged friends. At check-in, dog owners will receive Pluto’s Welcome Kit, which includes a mat, bowls, a pet ID tag, disposable bags, puppy pads and dog walking maps. The kit also includes a Pluto “Do Not Disturb” door hanger to let hotel staff know that a pet is in the room.

Disney has partnered with Best Friends Pet Care, an on-property, full-service facility that can provide pet daycare and other pet services, for a fee.

Guests will also be able to purchase pet merchandise at the pet-friendly resorts.

Here are a list of the hotels and the per night/per room pet-cleaning rates:

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort — $50

Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort — $50

Disney’s Yacht Club Resort — $75

Cabins at Disney’s Ft. Wilderness Resort — $50

A maximum of two dogs per room are allowed. Each guest room will have access to outdoor pet walkways for exercise and green spaces with pet relief areas.

A caveat: While dogs will be allowed to stay in guest rooms, they will be expected to be well behaved, leashed in public resort areas and properly vaccinated.

John Ward announces run for Ron DeSantis’ seat

A Republican Florida businessman isn’t waiting for Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis to make up his mind about his political future before running for his seat.

John Ward announced Thursday he’s running for DeSantis’ seat as the incumbent decides whether to run for governor or seek a fourth term.

Ward, a business investor and Navy veteran, is running as a pro-President Donald Trump candidate and an outsider who’s frustrated with business as usual in Washington.

He’s a multi-millionaire who plans to combine traditional fundraising with his own wealth to pay for the campaign, pledging to have at least $1 million in his account by January.

Democrat Nancy Soderberg, who once served as ambassador to the United Nations, is also running for the seat in the northeast Florida district that favors Republicans.

Stephanie Murphy hits $1M-raised milestone in CD 7

Freshman U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy has passed the $1 million mark in fundraising for her re-election campaign in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Her campaign touted the fundraising milestone, as well as Murphy’s $310,000 effort in the third quarter in a Thursday email, where spokesman Zachary Poe said the Orlando Democrat is gearing up to counter “partisan attacks” hitting her from the right.

“Stephanie Murphy has a strong record of bipartisan cooperation and delivering results for central Florida, which is why she has strong support from Democrats, Republicans, and independents,” he said. “National Republicans have already started launching negative attacks against Stephanie Murphy after only months in office, so we are raising the resources we need to fight back.”

Murphy’s new report has not been processed yet by the Federal Elections Commission, but at the end of the second quarter she had raised a total of $699,000 and had about $519,000 on hand.

Murphy beat out longtime Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica for the seat, 52-48, last year. Florida courts ordered new district lines ahead of the 2016 elections, making the Central Florida seat much friendlier to Democratic candidates.

At least one of the opponents looking to flip the seat back next year will be Winter Park Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who announced he would leave HD 47 to run for Murphy’s seat over the summer.

His campaign was barely off the ground before the end of the second quarter, and hasn’t touted Q3 numbers yet, but he’s had a number of big-name Republicans show up to help him on the fundraising trail.

Victor Torres blasts federal response, Donald Trump tweets on Puerto Rico

Declaring that “Americans are dying as we speak,” state Sen. Victor Torres blasted the Puerto Rico federal disaster relief efforts in an impassioned call at the Florida Capitol Thursday.

Torres, an Orlando Democrat who’s been active in the Florida-side of the relief efforts since Hurricane Maria devastated the island three weeks ago, also criticized President Donald Trump‘s Thursday tweet that had declared federal relief agencies cannot stay in Puerto Rico forever.

He joined key members of the Florida House Democratic Caucus including state Reps. John Cortes of Kissimmee and Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando.

Torres, a former Marine who is Puerto Rican, blamed a lack of coordination between the U.S. Military, working with FEMA and government officials in Puerto Rico in transporting and delivering the relief supplies, and called the preparation and response to the disaster by the federal government “inadequate.”

“Americans are dying as we speak,” Torres said. “While fellow Americans have generously rallied to donate relief supplies and money to support recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, the federal government has been too slow to respond to this disaster and there is a total failure of coordinated relief efforts to provide supplies and support to the island.

“There are tons of donated supplies like food, water, medicine and other vital resources that are either sitting in warehouses here on the mainland waiting to be sent to Puerto Rico, or even worse, containers of supplies sitting in the seaports and airports on the island that are not being distributed to people who are in desperate need.”

Torres noted that 80 percent of Puerto Rico still is without power and nearly half the island has no drinking water or functioning sewer services.

And then Thursday came Trump’s latest tweets, which also quoted journalist Sharyl Attkisson declaring that Perto Rico survived the Hurricanes and “now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.”

“A total lack of accountability says the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure were disaster before the hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend,” Trump tweeted.

“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump tweeted.

“Just this morning, the president tweeted that Puerto Ricans cannot expect relief workers to stay there forever,” Torres replied Thursday. “No one expects FEMA to be there indefinitely, but we should all expect and demand them to stay until they complete their job of aiding fellow Americans.”

Aramis Ayala moving on after losing death penalty battle

Eight months after she lit statewide firestorm debates over the death penalty and Florida government separation of powers, and five weeks after she lost those debates in the Florida Supreme Court, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala appears at peace.

Speaking with a gathering of journalists Thursday morning, the controversial, still-new state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties, said she was settling in to pursue her judicial reform agenda, she was pursuing justice, and she was happy.

“I enjoy my office. I enjoy life. Generally, I’m just a happy person. I don’t say that lightly. I enjoy doing what is right,” Ayala said.

Ayala talked Thursday morning at a meeting of the Central Florida chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She took questions challenging her now-abandoned opposition in her circuit to death penalty prosecutions, yet largely dismissed any political or personal concerns about where that came from or how much it cost.

If she had any regrets about the consternation her previous position or her six-month battle with Gov. Rick Scott and others had caused for anyone, including the families of murder victims, she wasn’t sharing them. Over café con leche at the Melao Bakery in Orlando.

Ayala, who was elected last year, presented herself as a public official who took a stand based on her interpretation of the law, lost, and has since moved on. She characterized the debate as something that had to happen, it did, and now it’s over.

“I had an interesting start,” she said. “The day I took office we were dealing with the death penalty. And unfortunately, a lot of people only know me for that. But there certainly is more to me as a person, as a lawyer, as prosecutor that deals with that,” Ayala said. “But when I took office, the first conversations I had with prosecutors across the state was dealing with the death penalty. We had a statute that had been ruled unconstitutional two times in less than two years, so we knew there was a problem. That was the first week of me taking office. Then we had the deaths locally of two police officers that we had to deal with. We had internal issues with employees, and ultimately we had retaliatory budget cuts.”

Ayala said she supposed her contentedness came from being a cancer survivor, someone who nearly died from lymphoma as a young woman in law school, and then struggled with avascular necrosis. She said that life experience also taught her “the level of accountability. It teaches you that one day we all have to answer and respond to the right that we lived. And I’ve committed to that.”

On Thursday she sought to turn the focus to initiatives she campaigned on – as opposed to the death penalty, which she did not. Those include creation of aggressive teams of prosecutors to deal with domestic violence and human trafficking. Ayala said that she has gotten those promised units up, operating and prosecuting, and getting convictions, despite state budget cuts of $1.3 million for her office, which for all practical purposes eliminated previous domestic violence money, forcing her to redirect funds from elsewhere.

“I’m… looking at the numbers of homicides in our community that are based upon domestic violence,” she said. “I look at the younger the girls are getting, the more they’re being impacted by domestic violence. I’m looking at how domestic violence can tear up an entire community. And we get a lot of it.”

She said her office also moved forward with other reforms, notably a program in which prosecutors get involved with communities, and her juvenile justice “Project No No,” creating new opportunities for young offenders to go through diversion programs without getting criminal records. She said she has recently hired 20 new assistant prosecutors fresh out of law school.

Pete Clarke looking to tap civic groups, neighborhoods as Orange County mayor

As Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke looks back on his long and deep involvement in civic organizations leading to election to the commission, and now to a run for mayor, he’s not quite sure how he ever got so involved, but he can’t imagine not having been so active.

With a profession in health care management, Clarke first got pulled into civic involvement when he was running a facility for abused and neglected children, and the experience led to further interests in dealing, through private and non-profit groups, to solve a variety of social ills. It’s who he is as he runs for mayor, Clarke said.

“I’ve been a community person through a variety of organizations. I have abilities and talents I think that will certainly play a role in the next four to eight years to the challenges I see coming,” he said, sitting down this week with Orlando-Rising.

Clarke, in his second term on the commission, filed Tuesday to run for Orange County mayor in 2018. That put him into a rapidly-growing field that includes Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, and Orlando regional chamber of commerce president Rob Panepinto.

The election is non-partisan but the parties are fighting for it. Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who is leaving due to term limits, Clarke, Sublette and Panapinto are Republicans; Demings, a Democrat.

Clarke has positioned himself as a small-government advocate who believes the county’s most important role may be as a facilitator, bringing public and private interests together to tackle issues ranging from chronic poverty to the current anticipated influx of Puerto Ricans to Orlando.

Clarke talks about government’s need to stay out of the way of business. Still, he’s cautious about the county allowing development beyond its 1998 service boundaries and voted against the controversial developments planned east of the Econlockhatchee River last year. Instead he said the county needs to follow the model set by Mayor Richard Crotty more than a decade ago in planning the road network, then inviting in development, for what became the Innovation Way corridor in southeast Orange.

He’s concerned about protecting water sources, which he calls a “fragile” resource, adjusting to potential tax revenue losses from the homestead exemption law changes, and the expected migration of tens of thousands, perhaps more, Hurricane Maria-displaced people from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Clarke, whose District 3 includes a very large Puerto Rican community, has been highly-active in relief efforts, in his typically low-key way, and also critical of Jacobs’ reluctance to get the county more involved in coordinating those efforts.

He’s convinced the key to raising neighborhoods out of chronic poverty and crime is to get them to feel and function more like neighborhoods, with clean streets, street lighting that works, and community partnerships that make people like living there.

Such socially-focused issues, from improving impoverished, high-crime neighborhoods to helping children, are his bailiwick, his passion, and his priority. That’s where government needs to leverage the brand names and infrastructures of non-profits and businesses, who he said can tackle problems far more efficiently than direct government services.

“Government should be a facilitator. You can see it from the community, and my experience with not-for-profits, how we created the created the Primary Care Access Network, how we dealt with after-school zones with the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs, the central receiving center through Aspire, the juvenile assessment center through HSA. Really we always turn to the private sector because they can do it quicker,” Clarke said. “These are programs that give great results.”

And they improve the community, he said, not just for the affected residents, but overall, he insisted; and that attracts businesses, especially the big corporations.

“You look at all these issues and what we try to do to attack them, I think it makes us a much more attractive community for them to come to. Because corporations today are looking for communities that are not afraid to invest social capital, to tackle social issues,” Clarke said.

“So I think how we do that makes us more attractive to these big-paying companies. That’s another thing we can put out there, that we are attacking these issues. It really is, it’s kind of underneath the veneer. Underneath the veneer is how friendly are you? How do you value education? How do you value different opinions? How do you bring people to the table to address questions? And how do you address newcomers?” he added.

Bobby Olszewski wins HD 44 special election

Robert “Bobby O” Olszewski  rode a grueling Republican primary campaign ending in August to a solid victory Tuesday to win the open seat for Florida’s 44th House District in a special election.

Olszewski, of Winter Garden, won by a 56-44 margin over the Democrats late-entry replacement candidate, businessman Eddy Dominguez of Dr. Phillips, in the special election to replace Republican state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle of Windermere.

“The voters said that Bobby Olszewski is the best representative to represent our hometown community here in District 44. And I couldn’t be more honored and excited to serve them up in Tallahassee,” Olszewski said.

That service will begin immediately. Olszewski got sworn in Tuesday night and said he would immediately depart for Tallahassee, where he expects to begin participating in committee action representing HD 44 starting Wednesday.

Yet the vote tally was far closer than many had expected, especially in a district that Democrats haven’t seriously competed in for more than a decade, and because Dominguez only campaigned for three weeks.

For Olszewski the victory is vindication for an anti-cronyism, conservative economics platform he has been running on for years, first as a Winter Garden city commissioner, then last year as a failed candidate for the Orange County Commission. It’s a platform that has allied him with Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran.

Olszewski entered the race in April, even before Eisnaugle resigned, and has campaigned hard for four months in a district that is very similar to the Orange County Commission district he campaigned in last year, and includes most of the Winter Garden city district that elected him earlier.

“I have absolutely put my entire heart and soul into serving my hometown community. I could not do it without my wife Allison and my daughter Reagan supporting me every step of the way,” Olzewski said.

For Dominguez, the loss nonetheless reflects an impressive start for a first-timer who had barely three weeks to campaign after being appointed to replace the original Democratic nominee, Paul Chandler, who withdrew in mid-September.

Dominguez already is committing to seeking a rematch with Olszewski in the 2018 election, when Olszewski will be seeking a full term.

“We are very proud of what we were able to accomplish in barely three weeks,” Dominguez said. “We won the last day of early voting. We won election day by 4 points. I am especially proud of all the staff, the party, everyone who supported the campaign.

“I think we set the tone for 2018,” he added.

Chandler’s name – not Dominguez’s – appeared on all the ballots, and voters were advised that a vote for Chandler would be counted as a vote for Dominguez. With little money and name recognition he nonetheless took a bigger percentage of votes than any Democratic challenger has managed in a decade.

Just 12,477 votes were cast in the district, representing 10 percent of the voters in a district spanning much of southwest Orange County, including the city of Windermere, the large unincorporated communities of Dr. Phillips and Hunters Creek, parts of the cities of Ocoee and Winter Garden, and almost all of Orlando’s tourism corridor, including the parks and areas around Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando and the International Drive corridor.


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